Madeleine Pierard makes the most of all roles that come her way

When Auckland Choral does its annual Messiah in two weeks' time, the four soloists will be headed by soprano Madeleine Pierard.

She is looking forward to coming home from London after triumphs earlier this year singing The Creation with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and, in Christchurch, playing Musetta in NZ Opera's La Boheme.

She laughs when I quote one review of the production, describing her as a bob-cut beauty stealing the show as she totters about in sky-high heels. Musetta is a role, like Fiordiligi from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, that she could deliver at a moment's notice.

"It's all there," she says. "Although most of the others would take me a few hours to brush up."


At present she is covering the role of Elletra in Martin Kusej's controversial production of Mozart's Idomeneo at Covent Garden; there are no calls yet but, on performance days, she cannot be more than 10km from the opera house. It is not such a bad deal being a "cover girl", Pierard feels. "Part of me says that I wouldn't mind doing it for ever. Some singers hate covering but it has the advantage of being able to observe the production at close hand as well as learning a role in depth. It's a wonderful way to add to your repertoire."

In 2012, covering Musetta, she was called on to deputise for an indisposed Nuccia Focile. "My only experience of being thrust on stage on the day," she says. "It was lucky I knew the role so well because it can be ever so slightly frightening if you're not 110 per cent prepared to go on."

Bearing in mind the unconventional staging of ROH's Idomeneo, how difficult might it be to join its cast at the eleventh hour?

"There's a certain amount of natural organic dramatic process during a show," Pierard says. "In Boheme I'd watched rehearsals and, when I was on stage, in character, I could relate completely to the people around me because I had my own story and, within that story, I'd formulated relationships with the other characters."

Looking to the future and roles she would like to take on, she mentions Marguerite in Gounod's Faust and Richard Strauss' Salome. "Although I don't know whether that's the way my voice is heading. I love that music. As well as the absolutely persistent, maniacal drama that doesn't let up for an hour and 45 minutes."

One of her first roles, after moving to London as a Young Artist with the Royal Opera House, was as a slave in David McVicar's production of Salome. "I sang for just six seconds. But I was on stage for the whole time, immersed in it." Pierard has a good deal more than six seconds of singing in Auckland Choral's Messiah. Like many musicians, she grew up with the work.

"My father always brought out his Messiah CD at Christmas time," she remembers. "In fact, it was rare, in our house, to hear anything that was later than Handel, even if Bach was the big one."

Yet she feels a special affinity for Handel's music. "I love the soundworld. When I first came to London one of my first roles was with the London Handel Society. Coloratura is the one thing I can do easily as a singer, and Handel's music always involves a lot of runs and ornaments."


She works hard to find "ornaments that feel natural to me", drawing inspiration from various sources.

"It's the only thing I use my degree in composition for. I actually write out my own editions of my arias, with ornaments. Some pianists are completely fine when you don't do what's on the page, but others hate it. This keeps everyone happy."

What: Auckland Choral: Messiah
Where and when: Auckland Town Hall, December 15 and 16 at 7.30pm