The Met’s Mounting of Beethoven’s Fidelio Puts a Strong Woman in the Spotlight

Classic Arts   The Met’s Mounting of Beethoven’s Fidelio Puts a Strong Woman in the Spotlight Star soprano Adrianne Pieczonka reveals her take on the refreshing role.
Pieczonka, left, with Nina Stemme, in last year’s Met <i>Elektra</i>
Pieczonka, left, with Nina Stemme, in last year’s Met Elektra Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Leonore, the valiant heroine of Beethoven’s Fidelio, is one of opera’s most fascinating and inspiring characters. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, who dazzled audiences last season as Chrysothemis in Elektra, spoke to the Met’s Jay Goodwin about taking on this exhilarating yet demanding role.

Met audiences last saw you as Chrysothemis in Patrice Chéreau’s production of Elektra, which you’ve now done in four different places. How has that experience stayed with you?
Adrianne Pieczonka: You know, it has really impacted me. I’d never worked with Patrice, and I was fortunate enough to do the original production at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in summer 2013. By that September, he had died. So it was his last production, and I feel really blessed and very lucky to have had that chance. In addition to lots of small stage-business tips, Patrice wanted a very honest, pure approach—nothing superfluous, nothing extra. He emphasized that you need to listen. You need to react, not just act. I carry that advice with me as I move on to other wonderful things—for instance, the Met Fidelio.

There are many things that I’m sure make Leonore challenging and rewarding to sing, but one unusual aspect is that you spend most of the opera disguised as a man—a rare thing for a dramatic soprano.
You’re right—it’s very rare, and I really enjoy it. I was a tomboy growing up, so maybe I’m able to tap into that. In opera, of course, you have all the pants roles, which are mostly mezzos. But what’s interesting and different here is that Leonore is not a man. She’s just dressing up as Fidelio, whereas Octavian and Cherubino, for example, are men. Leonore, though, is disguising herself and putting herself in great danger. She’s very heroic.

She is one of the most empowered women in opera. She’s rushing to her husband’s rescue instead of the other way around. That must be refreshing.
It is. It makes a big change from playing the hysterical Chrysothemis and so many other roles. And with what’s going on in the world, I think it’s great to have a strong woman—a brave, courageous woman on a mission. I do find it empowering, and if I can empower others, that’s great.

Musically, Fidelio can be quite tricky. Beethoven takes a very rigorous approach, but there are moments of humor in the piece as well. How do you find the right balance?
To me, Fidelio is much more reminiscent of Mozart than anything else. I started my career singing mostly Mozart, and it’s a joy, after singing the heavier Strauss and Wagner roles, to come back to the purity of this music. But Leonore is a challenging role, sort of like Donna Anna with all cylinders firing. Not to mention that sometimes Beethoven wrote for the voice as if it were an instrument—you feel as if you’re a clarinet line or something. It’s also rather low in places, and this is why we get singers like Christa Ludwig and Waltraud Meier—zwischenfach singers [whose voices lie somewhere between the typical soprano and mezzo]—who do it. To me, it is a soprano role, but it is demanding. If you look at the aria “Abscheulicher!,” it just really spans the range. It’s more than two octaves, and it’s very florid in the final section. And then there’s also such delicacy. For instance, in the Act 1 quartet, it’s of course genius with its entrances, how each voice enters in a fugal style, but it’s also just beautiful, delicate, lyric singing. So you’ve really got everything in this role.

At the Met, your Florestan will be Klaus Florian Vogt. Have you worked with him before?
Yes, many times. He’s a wonderful artist, and he’s someone who started out on the lyric side. And little by little, year by year, he has developed his voice, and he is now moving more into Heldentenor territory. His technique is so fascinating; he has this wonderful lyric yet powerful sound. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever heard before and I think it’s very effective. I think audiences are in for a treat.

Fidelio opens March 16 and runs through April 8. For tickets and information visit MetOpera.org.