Posts Tagged ‘Adrienne Pieczonka’


In Classical Music, Opera, Richard Strauss on May 2, 2016 at 11:15 am


Review – Elektra (Metropolitan Opera HD Live Broadcast, Saturday 30 April 2016)

Elektra – Nina Stemme
Chrysothemis – Adrienne Pieczonka
Klytmänestra – Waltraud Meier
Orest – Eric Owens
Aegisth – Burkhard Ulrich
Fifth Maid – Roberta Alexander

Director – Patrice Chereau/Vincent Huguet
Set Designer – Richard Peduzzi
Costume Designer – Caroline de Vivaise
Lighting Designer– Dominique Bruguière

Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Esa-Pekka Salonen (Conductor)

It’s rare to get that feeling, when attending an opera or a concert, that you are witnessing greatness. Even rarer to think you are witnessing history. And almost impossible to consider it happening over a live HD broadcast.

The Metropolitan Opera’ s production of Elektra managed all three. Perfectly.

There was literally a musical convergence – an alignment of incredible talent, inspired staging and direction and outstanding music making. And the gravitational force that pulled it all together was Nina Stemme. And she has done this before – at the Proms.

This Elektra undoubtedly establishes her as one of the greatest dramatic sopranos ever. It was a performance of complete commitment and with the close-up afforded by the broadcast, of super-human, searing intensity. Vocally she was superb and compelling, creating emotional shock wave after shock wave, portraying Elektra with a full spectrum of conflicted feelings – revenge, love, hope and despair. Her voice has never sounded better, deploying a full range of colour and dynamics combined with astute musical intelligence in terms of phrasing, articulation and most importantly, a focus on the words.

As her sister, I can think of no better Chrysothemis than Adrienne Pieczonka. Her music is as difficult and formidable as her sister’s. It requires a soprano who can quite literally soar above the orchestra and Ms Pieczonka was vocally resplendent. Her soprano gleamed and shone brightly, but she tempered it brilliantly, shading the music to truly reflect this character’s vulnerability.

Waltraud Meier completed the trio of women of House Atreus. This was not a queen racked by fear and guilt – well not all the time – but one very much in control and unrepentant. It built on her portrayal in Dresden. From her first entrance, striding onto the stage, to the moment when her maid gives her the letter about Orest, Meier created a role that was more even in its emotional spectrum rather than relying on and wallowing in extremity. The humanity of her relationship with Elektra – stroking her hair as if reliving happier times – was especially poignant. Her was also a masterclass in the marriage of music, meaning and diction. Each phrase perfectly placed, every word loaded with emotion.

The men – Orest and Aegisth – were brilliantly supportive of the three women. Owens’ detachment seemed fitting but did mean than vocally he wasn’t as compelling as the Orest of the Tobias Lehrer I recently heard in Berlin.

But the surprise of the production was the Fifth Maid of none other than Roberta Alexander. I did not realise it was Ms Alexander until after the broadcast, but from her very first note it was a performance that made everyone sit up and listen. There was a keenness and precision to her portrayal the likes of which I’ve not witnessed in this role before.

Chereau’s production – first seen in Aix – only made me wish that I had seen it live. It also made me realise, at a time when good directors seem to be lacking, we have lost someone of incredible talent and insight.

This was an Elektra full of humanity and colour – finally an Elektra not deluged in blacks and greys. His attention to detail, not only of each character but how they related to and acted with each other also stood out. How a servant stepped intervened to protect Ms Alexander’s Fifth Maid. How the maids doubled as the Queen’s advisers. The desperate attention Chrysothemis paid to the young man. And at the end, Orest’s departure and Elektra’s retreat into a catatonic state.

Theirs wasn’t a victory but total and utter defeat.

While it’s hard to gauge the orchestra filtered through HD, they undoubtedly were magnificent, not for the lush to harsh sounds they produced as required but for the way they clearly responded to Salonen in the pit. His conducting brought out the very best of the score from its rhythmic vitality to its surging romanticism.

Even thousands of miles away, sitting in the dark, this Elektra was a complete privilege.

Sister, where art thou?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on October 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

Review – Elektra (Royal Opera House, Tuesday 1 October 2013)

Elektra – Christine Goerke
Chrysothemis – Adrienne Pieczonka
Klytämnestra – Michaela Schuster
Orest – Iain Paterson
Ägisth – John Daszak
Maids – Anna Burford, Catherine Carby, Elizabeth Sikora, Elizabeth Woollett, Jennifer Check
Overseer – Elaine McKrill
Confidant – Louise Armit
Trainbearer – Marianne Cotterill
Young Servant – Doug Jones
Old Servant – Jeremy White
Orest’s Companion – John Cunningham

Director, Set & Lighting – Charles Edwards
Costume Designs – Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Movement Director – Leah Hausman

Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra
Conductor – Andris Nelsons

A question.

Why is Adrienne Pieczonka not heard more often in the UK either on stage or in recital?

I have long admired her recordings of Richard Strauss lieder and Wagner. I have also seen her in Munich as the Marschallin and as a superlative Empress in Vienna.

And her incredible performance as Chrysothemis in Charles Edwards’ production of Elektra was the highlight of the entire evening. Vocally she out-paced both her Hellenic sister and mother with a role-performance that I cannot remember being bettered.

Her warm lustrous tone – golden and rich – effortlessly and tirelessly scaled the vocal lines written by Strauss. And the gorgeous, youthful bloom she also invested in her singing, combined with her sympathetic acting made the innocence of her character even more believable.

Breathtaking in her musicianship as she soared through Ich Kann Nicht Sitzen Und Ins Dunkel Starren, she also coloured her voice with heartrending tragedy as she shifted between her desire to be a woman and mother and her current predicament. And her final cries at the end of the opera were similarly laden with the tragedy of what had occurred.

Michaela Schuster as Klytämnestra was also vocally strong and unlike other singers in this role did not overplay the mother’s psychosis. This made her scene with Elektra much more dramatic and Schuster was – for me – impressive.

And so to Christine Goerke’s Elektra. She clearly has the heft and volume for this role and it was dramatically mesmerizing at times. But it was a one-speed performance in terms of emotional range. This was an Elektra mad throughout and while Goerke’s acting abilities were able to carry this off with an intensity that was gripping, I personally missed a more subtly shaded characterization. Indeed the only time this Elektra seemed to change emotional track was as she breathed her last.

Nor was it always vocally secure. There were moments of distracting vibrato at the top of her range and a lack of warmth and depth in those passages which require a greater sense of lyricism. Most tellingly, immediately after she recognizes her brother, Goerke sounded strained at the top of her range and didn’t quite find the warmth and bloom in her voice that this magical moment requires.

Of the men, John Dasak was a clarion-bright Ägisth but the Oreste of Iain Paterson, while suitable dark and brooding sounded closed and at times almost muffled. The smaller roles – particular those of the five Maids – were well cast.

Charles Edwards’ set remains austerely impressive even after a decade. I am sure that there were changes to the movement and direction of the opera since last I saw it at Covent Garden but I do wonder if it might not be time to look anew at this opera.

And finally in the pit, Andris Nelsons drew some superb playing from the orchestra. The strings were warm and burnished and he picked out with precision the details in the score throughout – what particularly comes to the mind is the torture of the Fifth Maid and Klytämnestra’s arrival for example. And as well as finding the inevitably brutality within the music, Nelsons spun out the lyricism, giving the music – and the audience – time to breath without ever losing the momentum to the final denouement.

There is no denying that this was an incredible performance of Elektra. There is also no denying that overall, Goerke’s performance in the title role was committed and full-throated.

However personally – and I think for many people in the audience – it was the night of a memorable Chrysothemis from Adrienne Pieczonka.

I hope that this is the start of more frequent performances by this very talented soprano here in the UK.


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

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