When thinking of progressive performative politics, one’s mind may not immediately leap to the world of opera. The art form hasn’t seemed to have changed substantively over the last several hundred years, presenting a hyper-polarized world of gender roles in which the men are manly and the women stay dainty (well, as dainty as one can be while sporting a horned helmet and a metal bustier.)
Thankfully, there’s some good news for fans patiently waiting for Isolde to throw over that gloomy Tristan for a busty Brünnhilde: operatic lesbians reign supreme in Cambellford as Laurie Tucker joins wife Adrianne Pieczonka in a luscious evening of Sapphic sopranos.
It’s part of Westben’s Concerts at the Barn series, and Burlington native Pieczonka couldn’t be happier at snagging a gig close to home; the globe-trotting diva has spent the last several months on a successful – but exhausting — European tour.
“It’s challenging at times, of course,” says Pieczonka. “My schedule takes me all over the world, but once a year we manage to find time to sing together. It’s really magical to make music with your partner.”
Choosing songs for their concert proved a little tricky for the women. There aren’t a lot of duets written for mezzo and soprano voices.
“We’ve been given carte blanche,” Pieczonka says. “We wanted to keep it light and summery, so we chose things we felt suited us: The Lakmé flower duet from Madame Butterfly, Barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman, and a big scene from the opera Norma, which is a Bel Canto piece that neither of us have performed before. It’s a really great fiery scene.”
They’ll each also perform a selection of solo pieces, with Pieczonka revisiting familiar territory on ditties from Wagner, a composer with whose works she is often associated.
Tucker will be presenting Carmen, a perennial crowd-pleaser, but also aims to stretch her own repertoire in their Westben program.
“I’ve played a lot of pant roles (women as men) in my career, or young boys or girls or maids,” says Tucker. “I chose the arias that I’m singing in this concert intentionally to be a real grown-up woman this time. “
She’s particularly excited about a composition by Saint-Saëns entitled “Mon Coeur S’ouvre à ta Voix.” In it, the irresistible Delilah begins her seduction of a still-hirsute Samson.
“It’s that moment when she tells Samson that she loves him, and he just goes to pieces,” Tucker says, her voice warm and rich. “It’s a gorgeous piece and it requires all of my womanhood, if you know what I mean.
“It’s the sort of role that I wish for myself at this point in my career. It’s time I stop taking the back seat to all these bloody sopranos and take some juicy roles.”
It would be understandable if two ambitious and respected singers experienced the occasional frisson of competitiveness between them, but Tucker and Pieczonka remain stalwart fans of each other’s work, and supportive in a way that only another singer can offer.
“It’s challenging, sure, and it’s also amazing,” says Tucker. “I’m inspired by Adrianne’s singing, I always have been. I’m blessed that I get to sing with her.”
The couple met in 2004, during the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Valkyrie. Pieczonka was singing the role of Sieglinde, while Tucker stormed the stage in an army of Valkyries. They were about halfway through the rehearsal process when love struck fast and furious.
“The violins were playing, I always say,” laughs Tucker. “We dated intensely. I was living in the States at the time and she was in England. I went over for a visit and that was it.”
They married in June of 2005, and welcomed daughter Grace a year later. Life is now a busy whirlwind of parenting, travel and work, but the women are ecstatic at the opportunity to share a stage singing the music they both love – even if Tucker remains a little star struck.
“It’s occasionally nerve-wracking,” she admits, “because I keep Adrianne on a pedestal a bit. But to stand next to your partner with whom you share your life, your voices and your bodies vibrating together — how much more intimate can you get outside of the bedroom?”