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Adrianne Pieczonka.Bo Huang

Adrianne Pieczonka: Beyond the Aria at Toronto's Koerner Hall on Tuesday night

In 1987, Lawrence Cherney approached soprano Adrianne Pieczonka to sing the demanding lead part in a Soundstreams Canada performance of George Crumb's colourful 1970 masterpiece, Ancient Voices of Children.

And then, in 2015, 28 years later, Cherney approached Pieczonka to sing it again.

The difference is, in 1987 Pieczonka was a student at the University of Toronto, fresh from her home town of Brampton, Ont. Today, she is one of the world's great opera divas, at home in, and conversant with, the major stages, directors and conductors of the operatic world, lionized internationally, and deservedly so.

Perhaps Cherney can remember how Adrianne sang the Crumb in 1987. But there's no question how she sang it on Tuesday. Backed by a superb ensemble led by Leslie Dala, Pieczonka delivered a stunning, passionate, deeply committed performance of a taxing, and still startlingly original work.

Adrianne Pieczonka's musical life these days is bounded by the confines of traditional opera – the standard repertoire of the European and North American stage. She doesn't sing much, if any, contemporary music. However, based on her performance on Tuesday night, that's a decision she may want to seriously reconsider. The abandon and courage with which she threw herself into this work and inhabited its spirit attests to a creative intelligence in tune with our century, as well as centuries past.

Crumb's Ancient Voices surely qualifies as one of a handful of modern masterpieces of the last 50 years. Based loosely on poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, that dark and doomed victim of the Spanish Civil War, the piece is notable for the varied and original colours with which it paints its fantastical landscape.

For example, the soprano begins the piece producing phonetic sounds, not words, into the open piano, whose strings echo her voice in an unearthly shimmering resonance. Later, she'll sing text, fragments of words, swoop and slide throughout her range, work with silence, as well as bellow triple forte, while behind her, an army of bells, a harp, an oboe, a musical saw, a toy piano, mallet instruments, wooden blocks and who knows what else provide a powerful musical kaleidoscope, constantly shifting its colours and patterns.

The Crumb work is often singled out for the riot of its musical soundworld, but they are not just colours for their own sake. Like a cinematic nightmare, rushing by in barely coherent form, Ancient Voices of Children seems an evocation of the dark essence of Spain itself, full of blood and anguish, rhythm and joy – a world half-civilized, half-crazed. There is finely disciplined method to its madness.

The first half of Tuesday's concert also contained more than its share of musical pleasures. Mezzo Krisztina Szabó, having a Josh Donaldson sort of artistic year between her COC Erwartung and Against The Grain Death & Desire, used the colours of her expressive voice to full effect in a world premiere, also based on poems of Lorca, of Analia Llugdar's Romance de la luna, luna.

And Szabó and Pieczonka matched their darkly-hued voices in some George Crumb arrangements of American folk songs, from Hush, Little Baby to When the Saints Go Marching In. And there were even some Beatle songs arranged by Luciano Berio that Pieczonka threw in for good measure.

But Crumb's Ancient Voices was the stunning highlight of the evening. A work almost 50 years old, it still has the power to arrest and amaze, especially when performed with the sure and steady hands of musicians of the calibre that Soundstreams Canada assembled on Tuesday night.

And Adrianne, if you ever get just a wee bit tired of that Verdi stuff, the contemporary world, I'm confident in saying, will be waiting for you with open arms.