Pierard and the art of the prima donna
New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard will be performing on the Civic Theatre stage tomorrow night, part of the Chamber Music New Zealand Kaleidoscopes season.
Pierard, who won the Lexus Song Quest in 2005, said the pieces she chose for her 10-stop tour of New Zealand had become favourites, though it was hard to explain what made some music - in this case arias by composers Rossini and Bellini - favourites for a soprano who has mastered a repertoire in French, German and Italian.
"There is a harmonious language there for me in a song," she said.
"It can be in how it physically feels to sing it, and it is different for each performer."
Pierard grew up in a musical family in Napier and was introduced to opera early on through choir performances.
However, it wasn't until her first year at Victoria University - studying both biomedical science and musical composition - that she chose opera over a career as a doctor.
Further study in musicology, travel, and gruelling training have tapped into her talent in the seven years since, leading to her success on the stage in both Britain and New Zealand.
"It's been a very quick journey," she said, referring to the Song Quest win, a relocation to London to gain a master of music degree at the Benjamin Britten Opera and now her position as a Jette Parker Young Artist with the Royal Opera in Convent Garden.
It sounds glamorous, but there is a reason opera singers are often referred to as prima donnas. Pierard said that was often unfair as singers had to go to unusual - and often antisocial - lengths to preserve their vocal chords.
"You are really overusing that tiny piece of skin to fill an opera house. You have to be so careful not to talk too much, not to become too fatigued. You can't even go to pubs because there's too much noise and you have to raise your voice to be heard."
And the demands now go further for opera singers, she said.
"More is required of opera singers now. Aesthetically it is more demanding."
This means that as well as rehearsing and performing, she works out five to six times a week and does martial arts to stay in shape.
Pierard said that despite the hard work in balancing the preservation of her voice with the continued strengthening of her career, there are no regrets about choosing music over medicine.
"I do still fantasise about going back to medical school. Sometimes I wonder ‘Is what I do now really contributing to society?' But art is what makes us human - and if you have that ability to share that, why wouldn't you?"
Pierard and pianist Terence Dennis perform at the Civic Theatre, Invercargill, tomorrow at 7.30pm.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you agree with the city council's cut back on meals?Related story: Shadbolt bemused by 'prince of gluttony' tag