Cher Public

The Piotr principle

In the interest of fairness, La Cieca has accepted the offer of assistance from a Dutch-speaking parterrian who has graciously translated the interview with Piotr Beczala that’s been causing such a foofaraw lately.

The complete transcript is after the jump.


“Piotr Beczala, one of the bestWith a smile and a tear”

It is not as if good tenors suddenly fall out of the sky, although it sometimes may appear so. A voice has to grow, to mature, experiences need to be undergone, and the repertoire has to be expanded. Only by slowly building it up, you eventually arrive there. And more importantly, you stay there. A conversation with Piotr Beczala.

Text: Basia Jaworski [translation by Buster]

For a long time, the Polish tenor was a real insiders’ tip. His professional career started in Linz, in 1997, but he was discovered in Zürich. That opera house seems to have a good nose for tenors, both Jonas Kaufmann and Pavol Breslik came from there as well.

He has sung a lot of fabulous roles, many of which can be seen on DVD (his Duca in Rigoletto, and Alfredo in La Traviata are by no means to be sneezed at).

Beczala: One has to have patience, not rushing things. Not accepting roles which do not fit you. I used to be a notorious nay-sayer. It is almost unbelievable what roles were offered to me. Roles I could never sing, certainly not then. But I stayed firm, because I did not want to be a nine days’ wonder. Nowadays, after a career of twenty years, I know, and am capable of much more. My voice has developed, has grown bigger, and darker. My technique is solid, and I am more secure now, which means I can concentrate more on acting. Most roles that are offered to me now, I can either sing already, or will be able to shortly, so I have to say “no” less and less. Those responsible, the  casting directors and directors of opera houses, know very well what I will accept, and what not, meaning I get less and less idiotic requests. If they still make me one, I say “no.”

Lyrical tenor

Beczala looks like a leading man from a pre-war movie. He has an exceptional acting talent, not unimportant nowadays. Yet,  record contracts did not come, something which, perhaps,  was good for him. This way he was able to develop in peace, well, in relative peace at least, without noisy advertisement campaigns, to what he is now, at age 45, one of the best lyrical tenors in the world. Before making his debut in, amongst other places, Salzburg, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, San Francisco, and the Metropolitan Opera House, he has also sung in Amsterdam. Three parts, no less, in Szymanowski’s Krol Roger (the Shepherd), Tchaikovsky’s Onegin (Lenski) and Puccini’s La bohème (Rodolfo). Beczala has a beautiful, lyrical tenor voice, with a smile, and a tear. His slightly old-fashioned timbre evokes memories of Wunderlich, Gedda, or even Kiepura. With his predecessors, he shares a love for operetta, a genre he sings often, and with pleasure.

Exclusive contract

Operetta may be seen and heard again.  Even the smartest opera houses program operettas nowadays. The yearly operetta galas in Dresden, around Christmas, have become famous, and reach a lot of television viewers. The Staatskapelle Dresden is conducted by no other than Christian Thielemann, and joining Beczala are one or more sopranos. In 2011, Angela Denoke and Ana Maria Labin participated. In 2012, the scheduled Diana Damrau had to cancel at the last moment because of illness, and was replaced by Ingeborg Schlöpff. Both galas have been issued by DG.

In the meantime, record companies could no longer ignore Beczala himself. Last fall, he signed an exclusive contract with DG. Because of his love for the genre, it comes as no surprise that his first DG solo disc is an operetta recital.

Beczala: The CD was recorded in November, has been assembled, and is ready for release. It will be issued in May, extremely exciting! DG gave me the green light in the choice of the orchestra, and the conductor.  I immediately thought of the young Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz, with whom I have recorded a CD with Slavic opera arias before (Orfeo C814 101). Also the choice for the orchestra was clear from the start, it had to be the Royal Philharmonic. The program is simple: from operettas by Lehár and Kálmán to Robert Stolz. From Ich Liebe Dich, Ich Küsse Ihre Hand Madam, Das Lied Ist Aus, O Mia Bella Napoli, Ob Blond Ob Braun tot Carl Böhm’s Still Wie Die Nacht. More musicians have cooperated on the CD: singer Anna Netrebko, mandolin player Avi Avital and the vocal ensemble The Berlin Comedian Harmonists. A special guest singer is Richard Tauber. The Austrian tenor died in 1948, but with the help of modern technology I can now sing a duet with him. If that is not special…

Expanding the repertoire

For the first time Beczala is recording exclusively for one record company.

Beczala:Up to now, I have only recorded solo recitals for Orfeo. Two have appeared thus far: Salut! and Slavic Opera Arias. Both contain, besides well known arias, completely unknown works: Les Dragons de Villars by Maillart and Maître Pathelin by Bazin, but also arias by Arenski, Zelenski, and Nowowiejski. The third solo recital (Verdi) is scheduled for February. I do not wish to enter the history books as an operetta singer, and want to do a little more with Lieder. Right now, I am only exploring the genre. With Thielemann I have sung Strauss songs, and in Santa Fe I gave a recital with works by Schumann and Karlowicz, an unusual but beautiful combination, I think. Now is the time to expand my repertoire. Around 2015, I will try out heavier parts.  First Hoffmann in Les contes d’Hoffmann (2014, Vienna), but  also Manrico (Il Trovatore), and Cavaradossi (Tosca) are in the picture. And Lohengrin, with Maestro Thielemann. With him, I dare to do it. Actually, I do not want to plan further ahead than three years, but I am already booked until 2018.

Can we expect the tenor back in Amsterdam? Beczala sighs deeply.

Beczala: Who knows, I have a new agent now. Amsterdam is certainly not excluded, particularly not the beautiful Concertgebouw. I would love to sing in one of those saturday matinees there. “Regietheatre” is also one of the reasons I have declined a few offers from Amsterdam. I have a little black book with names of directors, and conductors with whom I never wish to work again. The name of Calixto Bieito is at the top. But, also, no more Hans Neuenfels or Martin Kusej for me. I have absolutely nothing against updating a piece, as long as it stays recognizable. I am not at all against modern, but against stupid, idotic, or far-fetched. I refuse to work as a group therapist for off the rails directors, to pay for their therapy, in which they can indulge in their undealt with frustrations. So, yes, I have had arguments with directors, for example with David Poutney in Zürich recently, during Un Ballo in Maschera. We talked for two days, but came to an agreement. I have the good fortune I can either accept things or refuse them, but many of my (starting) colleagues don’t have these privileges. Sometimes they think they will make it, when they partake in a much discussed production, but it does not work like that. In our profession you make it with your musicality, and dedication. Directors often think they are god, but you must not surrender yourself to them, but to the geniality of the composer.  I also wish to work no longer with conductors that have no respect for singers. I will not name names, but most of them come from the “old music.”

Which director do I admire the most?

Beczala: Franco Zeffirelli is more than a director, he is a monument. At the moment, you can see him as cultural heritage. His productions are always fabulous, they need to be cherished. It was a party for me to work with him. I also admire Guy Joosten a lot. His Romeo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera House was really beautiful. We singers too, enjoyed it tremendously. But the best of the best? For me, that is Nello Santi, without a doubt. But I also love Marco Armiliato.

Beczala defines the big difference with singers who start to conduct (think Placido Domingo)  as follows:

Beczala:  Domingo has the bad luck he is living in the now, the present. How should I explain? The difference between a “singer conductor” and a “regular” conductor is like the difference between a pianist and an organist: the pianist thinks about the sound that can be heard now, the organist thinks ahead,  about the resonance of the sound to come.

Beczala is practically always on the road. How does it feel to be nowhere really at home? The singer laughs.

Beczala:  In the meantime, we are at home everywhere, although my wife Kasia loves New York the most. Our real “home” is Kraków, in Poland, but nowadays we spend only two weeks a year there. Luckily, I have apartments in the cities I perform in the most: Vienna, Zürich, and New York, That is nice, and feels familiar. I have my own bed, my own toilet, and my own wine. That helps!

  • m. p. arazza

    Beczala in 2012 — here, FWIW, he does talk a bit about productions by Bieito he’s seen. Also mentions a day of discussions on Faust, where “they talked about their concept.”

    OL – So, you blacklist some people.

    PB – Yes, that’s the first thing. And my agent knows that.

    OL – Have you ever walked out of a production?

    PB – Not yet. I was prepared to do this, last fall in Barcelona. The idea was to do Faust of Gounod with Calixto Bieito. I saw in the list Krassimira Stoyanova singing Marguerite, and she is more conservative than I. I thought, “probably she knows how it looks” and I signed the contract, but in the first day when they talked about their concept, I said to my wife, “probably I’ll leave the production.” Because I saw in Munich a couple of productions by Calixto Bieito, it was always a picture of the private problems of Mister Calixto Bieito. That’s not the artistic way to do opera. I’m not interested in his private problems, his past or his family or his papa and mama or grandmother or his sexual problems, for me I’m not interested in that; I’m interested in the story. But fortunately because they had no money in Barcelona they presented it in a concert version and we were all happy (laughs).

    “the directors of today don’t seem to like opera. That’s the basic problem for me. Because working with somebody like this is no fun…”

    • Singer, critic, mind-reader, psychiatrist… is there no end to Beczala’s talents?

    • Feldmarschallin

      so he says he saw ‘a couple of productions’ in Munich. Strange since the only one I saw here before the interview was Fidelio. The Bieto Boris was just premiered last month and to great acclaim by press and public. I also don’t see all his private problems in this Fidelio and I wonder what he means by Bieto’s ‘sexual problems’ since I thought he was happily married. Anyway to talk about another artists sexual problems seems highly indelicate to say the least. Everyone says Bieto knows the Boris score by heart. Perhaps he doesn’t like some of these directors is because they make him work and not just sing at the ramp and do nothing.

      • I think you’re right: Fidelio was Bieito’s debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, and since the Beczala interview quoted was published in 2012 he could hardly have been the Boris Godunov.

        It’s sort of nit-picking, true, but it does seem like the tenor is talking through his hat.

    • m. p. arazza

      A question: are there good counter-examples of prominent singers who have spoken out in favor of these or comparable directors? (that is, beyond Meier on Chereau or Netrebko on “crazy directors” which are the only ones I could find in the Beczala threads.)

      • Feldmarschallin

        There was recently an article in Opernglas in which Marlis Petersen spoke out on how much she likes working with avant garde directors and she especially spoke highly of Konwitschny in the interview which is available on the Traviata DVD. Angela Denoke was another one who said directors are very important to her and she mentioned the work with Marthaler.

        • A. Poggia Turra

          A few months ago in Opera (UK), Giuseppe Filanotti spoke of enjoying working with innovate directors -- he particularly praised David Bosch, his director for the Munich L’Elisir in 2009, and also spoke of enjoying working with Robert Carsen and Graham Vick (he did not like Pelly’s L’Elisir, citing unrealistic amounts of stage movements).

          In a different issue of the same magazine. Sophie Koch, who does a great deal of research into her roles, spoke of positive experiences meshing her concept of her characters with the directors’ concepts. She spoke of once not agreeing with Achim Freyer during a production of L’Orfeo, but she said that “the results were so convincing, I had to admit he was right”.

          I also recall Catherine Nagelstad speaking very positively of her work with Neuenfels and the Wieler/Morabito team, especially during her years at Stuttgart. The mention of the latter is ironic, in that Wieler and Morabito did the excellent 2008 ‘Ballo in Maschera’ at the Stattsoper UDL. Her Riccardo in that production? One Piotr Beczala -- imagine that! :D

      • An interview with Krassimira Stoyanova:

        What has it been like working with the Royal Opera’s Kasper Holten?

        ‘Kasper Holten is a very intelligent person, very outgoing and easy to get on with. It’s very easy to work with him because his ideas were extremely clear, so you know exactly what he wanted. He was very prepared with his work before they even started, even with the difficulty of an opera in Russian. It’s not only a question of language, but also a question of cultural mentalities and cultural differences, as happens with all Slavic operas, which have a different psychology. Kasper knew the whole text by heart, in Russian. He told me he learnt Russian as a teenager to read Pushkin. I was very impressed by this.’

        As a singer, how much input do you have into how a new production is created? Did Kasper Holten welcome your ideas or did he come with a fixed view as to what he wanted his Tatyana to be like?

        ‘It’s always a mixture. It’s not just about the stage director, but the singers, the conductor, but you always have to come back to the composer and the poet. It’s most important you always start from the composer’s intention, the poet’s intention. Only from there can you work on the mixture of what the stage director, the conductor and the singers can bring to it.’

        In both Stefan Herheim’s production and in this one there is a use of flashbacks to present Onegin and Tatyana looking back on what might have been.

        ‘I like flashback very much. It shows all the characters from every possible angle. I don’t like all these productions which are visually beautiful to look at, but the singers don’t delve into the intimate side of their characters. I really like it where there are these little moments when you can really discover what the character is thinking on the inside… to see them blossom. Glossy productions are superficial and sugary.’

        How do the two productions compare?

        ‘They are very similar in exploring this idea of revisiting the past to interpret the present, but there are differences too. In Amsterdam, the idea was that Tatyana was remembering through Onegin’s eyes and thoughts, but here the characters are true to themselves. I think there is more self-analysis here, like a dialogue with yourself.’

        • Feldmarschallin

          And let us not forget it was Beczala who said that Stoyanova was even more conservative than him.

        • oedipe

          It’s very easy to work with him because his ideas were extremely clear, so you know exactly what he wanted.

          Which is proof, if there was ever any need of one, that ease of working with a director is no guarantee of the quality of the result: take a look at the Holten Onegin. Nor is knowledge of Russian a guarantee of understanding the culture, BTW.

  • A. Poggia Turra

    Oh my, how timely -- Lawrence Johnson writes in the South Florida Classical Review:

    Sarasota Opera pulls the plug on American opera project

    Launched with great fanfare in 2011, Sarasota Opera is pulling the plug on its American Classics Series after just three years. Despite critical acclaim and much nationwide praise for the company’s adventurous initiative, Sarasota Opera’s new executive director Richard Russell says that local audiences have not embraced the American project, and that the current production of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men will be the last work in the series. …….. Privately, some company officials said that Sarasota audiences, composed largely of well-heeled culturally conservative seniors, disliked and even “hated” the operas presented and let their feelings be known in several letters and phone calls to the company.

    Full article and comments:


    • Krunoslav

      That’s very sad. The audience seemed to like VANESSA (not exactly challenging musically, one would think) last year a lot.

    • Loge

      I am so sorry. The audiences seemed to like the American operas I attended. They certainly cheered for Mice and Men. I like this company for its performances of rarities. The Sarasota Opera has exposed me to many operas I would otherwise have never seen.

  • Cicciabella

    Boy, he really has it in for poor Calixto!

  • oedipe

    On the subject of what sells well at the Met: it is true that earlier in the season the Zeffirelli Turandot was a box office success. But so is the on-going run of Decker Traviatas. So the conclusion that Zeffirelli sells, whereas “regie” does not has no factual basis.

    Box office success is actually more complicated than that. It is a subject I have been watching fairly closely -though not in a strictly formal way- and commented on frequently here, comparing the Met with other top houses.

    Several factors come into play. The most important one, it seems, is the repertory: warhorses sell. Almost as important is the scheduling: the Met audience -unlike ,say, the ROH audience- favors weekend/matinee performances. These two factors account for much of the success at the box office. The cast and the production are also factors, though they come far behind the first 2. The name of the director may be a big draw at, say, German houses, but for the time being it is only a secondary factor at the Met, independent of the director’s persuasion.

    Examples: Turandot, in a splashy “traditional” production, with a nondescript cast, was a hit, especially the weekend/matinee performances; Traviata, in a “regie” staging, with a starry cast, is also a hit, especially the weekends/matinees. Carmen, which is the only warhorse French opera, did well but was no hit; it was a fairly “traditional” production, revived without any stars. Faust, on the other hand, is not an opera that Americans relate to very well. In a “regie” production (sort of!), with a starry cast, it was a fiasco last season, though the weekends/matinees fared better; this season, with a somewhat starry cast, it is not doing well either. L’Elisir, in a traditional looking staging, with a starry cast and a lot of publicity, did relatively well in the Fall (much less well in the Winter), but was not a hit: it is not as popular an opera with the Met audience as the main Puccini or Verdi titles. We could go on…

    • armerjacquino

      Very interesting stuff, oedipe.

      In addition, I don’t think we should draw too many conclusions based on TURANDOT, which is sui generis in a lot of ways. Firstly, when it comes to the very casual or first-time operagoer, it’s the opera with ‘Nessun Dorma’ in it, and since Pav at the World Cup, ‘Nessun Dorma’ has been the one aria everybody knows. Secondly, this production has almost a theme-park kind of appeal. When I saw it, it was with a last-minute standing ticket after many people here had told me it was worth the ‘experience’. So I went to see it in much the same way as I went to MOULIN ROUGE- expecting a visual treat and not much more, and so it proved. It is an extraordinary visual spectacle that people stand and sing in front of. So it’s always going to sell and the Met would be mad to drop it from the rep, but the fact remains that the main responsibility of an opera house is to present fully-rounded productions of operas, not thrilling dioramas with a bit of singing.

  • la vociaccia

    no intermission thread but 1995 bluebeard’s castle with leo nucci and (wait for it) Liudmyla Monastyrska

  • la vociaccia

    no intermission thread but 1995 bluebeard’s castle with leo nucci and (wait for it) Liudmyla Monastyrska

    • la vociaccia

      SORRY! youtube search description said those were the stars; I realized after posting it was the Marton. That is really weird…..

    • Batty Masetto

      Um, not to be difficult or anything, vociaccia, but if it’s with Nucci and Monastyrska why do the credits say Laslo Polgar and Eva Marton?

      • Batty Masetto

        You answered my question before I could get it up!

        • Batty Masetto

          *ahem* No comment on marital relations intended.

        • la vociaccia

          Damn those youtube tags and their improbable but possible outcomes (clearly the combination is a remnant of this youtube channel’s videos of Nucci and Monastyrska in Nabucco).

          It just seemed like a perfect storm: 1995 Nucci and a probably-too-young-but-this-will-be-interesting -monastyrska.