“Werther” at the Grand Theatre Liceu in Barcelona © Operawire
After a carefully built career of 25 years at smaller opera houses, Piotr Beczala has been at the absolute top for many years now. Here is a ten years old conversation with the Polish tenor: about saying no, his love for operetta and about everything else.
Piotr Beczala in Das Land des Lächelns. (© T + T Fotografie / Toni Suter)
It is not that the tenors (and not just the tenors!) suddenly fall out of the sky, even if it sometimes looks like it. A voice has to grow, mature, gain experience, build repertoire. Slowly, slowly… only then will you get there. And – more importantly – you stay there.
No one is more aware of this than Piotr Beczala. “You have to be patient, don’t rush things and don’t take on roles that don’t suit you”, he says. “I used to be a notorious ‘no-sayer’. It’s almost unbelievable what kind of roles were offered to me, roles that I couldn’t sing at all, especially then. But I always stuck to my guns, because I didn’t want to be only a one-day wonder”.
“Now, after more than twenty years of carefully building my career, I can do a lot more. My voice has developed and it has become bigger and darker, my technique is solid and my confidence has grown, so now I can concentrate much more on my acting. I can sing most of the roles that I am now offered, so most of the time I don’t have to say no anymore. Casting directors and intendants know very well what I will or won’t accept, so I get less and less of the crazier proposals. And to those I’ll just say no again”.
Beczała was a was an ‘insider tip’ for a long time. His professional career started in 1992 in Linz, but he was really discovered in 1997 in Zurich, the opera house that apparently has a good nose for spotting tenors (Jonas Kaufmann and Pavol Breslik are also from there).
Before he made his debut in the biggest and most important opera houses in the world, he also sang in Amsterdam. Three times no less: in Król Roger by Szymanowski, Yevgeny Onegin by Tchaikovsky and La Bohème by Puccini.
Below Beczala sings aria by Pasterz from Król Roger. The sound comes from the Naxos recording by Jacek Kaspszyk
Beczala has somewhat “pre-war” looks and he has more than a little talent for acting, which is not unimportant these days. Nevertheless, the contracts with record companies did not quickly materialize, which was probably a good thing for him. It enabled him to develop into what he has now become: one of the best lyrical tenors in the world, and that without any need of loud advertising campaigns. Deutsche Grammophon couldn’t get around him anymore and Beczala signed an exclusive contract with the company in the autumn of 2012.
Beczala bij de ondertekening van zijn contract met Deutsche Grammophon (foto: StefanieStarz)
Beczala’s somewhat old-fashioned timbre is reminiscent of a Wunderlich, Gedda or even Kiepura. What he also has in common with these predecessors is his fondness for operetta, a genre he loves and loves to sing.
It is therefore not surprising that his first solo recital with DG, Mein ganzes Herz, includes an operetta programme.
“DG gave me the green light for my own choice of orchestra and conductor. I immediately thought of the young Polish conductor Łukasz Borowicz, with whom I previously recorded a CD of Slavonic opera arias (Orfeo C814 101). As far as the orchestra was concerned, my choice was immediately clear: it had to be the Royal Philharmonic!
“The programme is simple: operetta! From Lehár and Kalmán to Robert Stoltz and Carl Bohm. Modern technology is also used, so in addition to today’s real guests such as Anna Netrebko, Avi Avital and the Berlin Comedian Harmonists, Richard Tauber himself is making an appearance! I’m going to sing a duet with him! If that is not something special…”
With Christian Thielemann I sang songs by Strauss and in Santa Monica I gave a recital with, among others, Schumann and Karłowicz, an unusual but beautiful and logical combination”.
Piotr Beczała & Helmut Deutsch (piano) in ‘”Skąd pierwsze gwiazdy”‘ (hence the first stars) by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz:
“Now is also the time to expand my repertoire. By 2015 I will try out heavier roles.
Below: trailer of ‘Lohengrin’ from Dresden, with Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala & Christian Thielemann.
And here ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (Tosca) – encore in the Wienner Staatsoper 10.02.2019
Piotr Beczala & Nello Santi: Un ballo di Maschera in Opernhaus Zurich
What other maestros, besides Thielemann and Borowicz, would Beczala like to work with? “For me, the very best is Nello Santi. Absolutely. But I also love Marco Armiliato. Or is that because his brother is an opera singer? That may be it, but I don’t know for sure…”
There are also the conductors that make Beczala less happy. “I don’t want to work with conductors that have no respect for singers and don’t know how to deal with singers. I don’t want to name names, but most of them come from early music. Which certainly does not mean that all early music conductors are no good”.
What is his experience with singers who have started conducting, such as Plácido Domingo? “Domingo has the flaw that he lives in the present, in the now. How shall I explain that… Consider the difference between a ‘vocal conductor’ and a ‘normal’ conductor as the difference between a pianist and an organist. A pianist thinks about the sound as it is there now, an organist thinks ahead, about the resonance of the sound that is to come”.
DIRECTORS (and his famous ‘black book’)
Beczala als Rodolfo in Salzburg
“I have nothing against updating, as long as it is recognizable. I am not against modern, but I am against stupid, foolish, far-fetched! I do indeed have a ‘black book’ with the names of directors with whom I never (ever) want to work”.
“I am lucky to be able to accept or refuse things, but many of my (starting) colleagues do not have that privilege. Some think, that once they get into a high-profile production, they will make it big, but that’s not how it works. In our profession you háve to have the musicality and the dedication. Directors often think they are God, but they are not, you must not surrender to them, but adhere only to the genius of the composers”.
“Which director do I admire the most? Franco Zefirelli, without a doubt. Zefirelli is more than a director, he is a monument, you may consider him to be our cultural heritage. His productions were (and still are!) always fantastic, they should be cherished. It was a feast for me to work with him, it gives the person inside the singer immense pleasure.
I also have a weakness and great admiration for Guy Joosten. His Romeo et Juliette in the New York Metropolitan was really beautiful, we, the singers, also enjoyed it immensely.”
When you travel so much and stay in so many different cities, do you still feel like you’re ‘home’ anywhere? “We feel at home everywhere now “, laughs Beczala. “Though Kasia, my wife, loves New York the most of all.”
“Our real home is in the mountains, in Poland, but we are there for no more than two weeks a year. Fortunately, I now have apartments in the cities where I perform most often: Vienna, Zurich and New York. They are nice and familiar. Your own bed, your own bathroom and your own wine: it helps!
On my: “can we expect you in Amsterdam too” comes a deep sigh. But then there is an answer: “Who knows? I would love to perform in the Saturday Matinee”.