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Beata i Michał Olszewscy
opera.info.pl - 11/05/2015

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Interview with Piotr Beczała - part two

Read the first part of the interview with Piotr Beczała
Polish version Flaga polska




English translation of the interview with Piotr Beczała by Beata and Michał Olszewscy for opera.info.pl (Vienna, 3rd December 2012)

Please pay attention this interview is divided into to separate part one and part two.

Katarzyna i Piotr Beczałowie - zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Państwa Beczałów
Click to magnify...

What is the role of the conductor? How important is she or he? We have observed recently, with concern, that there is a growing phenomenon of limiting the number of rehearsals with the whole orchestra, or worse, in extreme cases, to give up from them at all. In these last cases, the dress rehearsal is also the premiere ... We have already had the opportunity to see the first performances of the season in renowned opera houses with very famous and experienced singers in this repertoire, who acted on stage in a way like they do this for the first time. Stubbornly staring at the conductor, ignoring each other's presence on stage and singing not in exactly the same manner as the orchestra plays. Quite weird experience ....

The conductor must be involved in what is happening on stage. If she or he does not do it, it is really a big problem, because the conductor must not "just sit with the orchestra”. In such a situation, in fact, everyone on stage starts to "stare" at her or him trying to catch every movement of the baton at the right time. The conductor should behave like Maestro Santi, who is "with us" on stage permanently, and who even sings with us. There should be always an obligatory relation in which – the conductor should “reach” the orchestra via singers, not the other way round - by the orchestra trying to lead the singers. That's the way it should work, because the orchestra is a huge instrument, which, in addition, is sitting with its back to the stage. This is the point where a lack of understanding and compatibility is created.

And what about the small number of rehearsals?

In my opinion, it does not always have to make any problems, if the conductor knows the opera score by heart and she or he is able to lead the orchestra with her or his eyes closed. The problem is somewhere else. Recently a lot of so-called “shooting stars” conductors have appeared in the opera houses and nobody knows why these people are working there as they can’t even show properly neither “one” nor “two”. As a matter of fact these conductors are simply “trouble maker” because, unfortunately, the members of the orchestra looks only at them, not at us. The whole performance is “spoiled” then, because the conductor is not what she or he should be, that means the coordinator of everything what is going on at the stage.

You once said in an interview, that sometimes during the opera you have the strange magical and metaphysical feeling that you are not the very person who sings, but you are only a sort of a medium through which the singing freely flows and that you only allow this phenomenon to happen. These are probably those famous, special moments in the opera when you – the singer, become a character played by yourself and we, the audience, believe in it without hesitation as there is a complete identification between a singer and the character. Once, here in Vienna, we had the opportunity to confess to Natalie Dessay, after the performance of "La Traviata", that we had never imagined before we would be crying so much during the opera. Mrs. Dessay replied, "I also never thought that I would just cry so heavily on stage". So it happened on that evening in the Wiener Staatsoper that we all cried, those on the stage and those in the audience. What do you think - what is that?

This is this special moment for which I have chosen this profession. This is like, if you ask a Formula 1 world champion, why he drives so fast, lap after lap, again and again? His behavior islargelysubconscious and the same is with us. In such magical moments singers are a part of something unusual, something special. We are a part of a flow of energy, which takes place in the theatre.

After such deep, emotional experience, are you able to return home and to simply lie down and fall asleep?

Oh rarely. In fact, I actually sleep very little after the performance ...

But to have a chance to experience those special, magical moments of opera, a lot of elements must “play” together well…?

Yes that’s right, there are a huge number of elements which should match to each other, but above of all, the singer must be in harmony with the character he plays. Almost never you are able to feel the perfection of the opera in controversial productions, made by the controversial stage directors. The reason is that in such productions a singer needs all the time to focus on doing things that have little or even nothing to do with what she or he sings. At such times,our perceptioniselsewhere.

We have seen recently a weak tenor singing in the poor performance. But at the end he seemed to be convinced that he was great, so he allowed himself to show to the audience the gesture of victory, the sign of the ostentatious triumphalism. Moreover he looked very pleased with himself...

I think I know whom you're talking about. It's a very sad phenomenon. This young man succeeded a couple of years ago at the Operalia where he sung extremely difficult arias from the first Puccini’s opera. He was 24 at that time and as far as I know he managed to do this then. This is a South American style, where nobody before his or her thirties pays special attention for the voice hygiene and singing technique. This is usually very exciting for some young people, when they "quickly run forward," but unfortunately it usually ends up in a very bad way for them ...

They wanttooquickly to "grab" thatsword?

Yes, yes ... because as I said, the sword must be earned.

Well, we agree, but you know that for most young people you look a bit “outdated”, because nowadays applies a rule that “if you are not fully successful before thirties you are a looser”. It seems that such an approach now dominates?

Tenor mathematics is very simple. For Cavaradossi part you may get 20% more than for Tamino part. However you may sing the hero of “Tosca” just only twice a week, while you can be Tamino easily four times a week for thirty years. The calculation is very simple. After five years of premature singing of Cavaradossi you have some amount of money but you are losing your voice, while after twenty years of singing the lyric repertoire you still cherish your voice and your pile of money is many times bigger. Believe me, there is nothing more unpleasant, like a singer without a voice, and there were many of them. Most of them, too quickly wanted to be successful ...

We will tell you now a story, which we would like you to finish. “Once upon a time a mischievous demon stopped Piotr Beczała. Dude - he says - I have a deficit of bad deeds, so I have to steal your singer talent. But don’t worry chap as I like you so much that I let you be a great fellow again and I even allow you to choose a different area of professional ​​life by yourself. Piotr Beczała thought a moment and chose ...

In America I would probably be a professional baseball player. Nowadays, I would certainly be retired after my career and enjoying a “big pile" of money and I would work as a college coach. Great job .. (laughing)

And, do you know baseball?

No, but I like to throw the ball to the goal. That is why I could also be a professional golfer ...

But it would happenin America. What about Europe?

Piotr Beczała w roli piekarza - zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Katarzyny i Piotra Beczałów
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I would like to be a baker…

But weask you seriously…

I’m serious. I really like to bake ... Anyway, after some time I would hopefully have a bakery chain. What's more, it is worth remembering that Pavarotti was the son of a baker, Kiepura was also a son of a baker and I spent two months working in a bakery during the study…

Do you think anytime about your future? What are you going to do after 15 or 20 years from now?

For sure I will be teaching. Maybe I'll have a vocal school and every four years one well singing tenor will be graduated from it.

Do you thinkabout aschoolin Vienna?

I do not know yet, but surely such a school should be located in the historic center of music and, of course, Vienna is the excellent place for this sort of activity.

Very often you are asked about people, whom you respect most, in other words, people whose wise advices, you listened to over your professional life, helped you become a better singer. Beside mentioning Dale Fundlingu, Nello Santi or Alexandro Pereira you always underline the importance of your wife Katarzyna. We have a feeling that your Wife knows everything about opera?

But I know more ... I'm kidding of course. My wife Kasia is a professional. She is present on most rehearsals and on almost all performances, and she always supports me by providing direct, fast and perfect advises. What's more, Kasia also studied three years with Dale, so she has got excellent knowledge about ideal sound. Nobodysingsperfectlyall the time. It happens also to me that I’m trying to discover different way of singing, looking for something more original and in such moments my Wife intervenesappropriately: “take care of this”, “pay attention to this place in the score”, “considerwhether you really want this” and even “you know what, you better call Dale with this problem”. In short, Kasia is always painfully sincere, for which I greatly respect her and very much appreciate her. Moreover I am pretty aware that my Wife is trying to protect me, and her intentions are always very good.

A few months ago, your Wife told us that she had always been confident that you would be a great singer in the French repertoire. It seems that your Wife did not make a mistake?

Yes, because in this repertoire there are the best and the most beautiful roles for me - Romeo, Faust, Des Grieux ...

But your latest, already recorded, album is dedicated to Verdi? Nowadays, there is a lot of discussion about your contract with Deutsche Grammophon and the album devoted to the works of Richard Tauber, but we know practically nothing about your Verdi album. Can you set aside the curtain to us and reveal what repertoire this album will include?

The album will include the aria "Parma Veder ..." from Rigoletto, there will be a long duo with Mrs. Ewa Podleś – the whole scene of Manrico and Azucena from second act of "Il Trovatore", that is fifteen minutes of singing. There will be also "Ah Si Ben Mio" also from “Il Trovatore”, then a scene from "Les vêpres siciliennes," the French version of the "Sicilian Vespers", then "La Traviata" and "Aria and Canaletta," "Macbeth," "A Masked Ball," "In Gemisco "and a duet with Mariusz Kwiecień from " Don Carlo ".

Will this album include "Otello"?

No, there will be no "Otello" ... (laughs) ...

And when is planned the commercial release of the album?

It is planned for late January or early February next year and it is expected to coincide with the premiere of "Rigoletto" at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

And the album devoted to Tauber’s works?

Mariusz Kwiecień, Piotr Beczała, Łukasz Borowicz - zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Katarzyny i Piotra Beczałów
 Click to magnify...

The end of April or beginning of May. Earlier, it would be very difficult, because for three months I will be working in the United States, so it would be virtually impossible for me to take part in performances promoting the album here in Europe.

We understand that from now you will be recording albums exclusively with Deutsche Grammophon. When the next album may be expected?

Let's wait first for the first one. The album was done so fast, that there was no time to reflect on the content of the next. With Deutsche Grammophon we have the so-called "multi-contract" including many albums, so it's only a matter of time when the new ideas for next albums are developed.

As for "Otello", about which you asked before, I think, this is the work of Verdi with which I will finish my adventure with singing, because this role is very specific. Some time ago I talked on this with Professor Malte Fischer Jentsem, who will write the "booklet" for my new album of arias by Verdi. Professor is the author of extremely interesting book "Grosse Stimmen", where you can find fascinating excerpts about "Otello", as in his opinion this role is the consequence of all other Verdi’s tenor role. Otello, according to Professor Fischer, contains all the elements of interpretation which can be found in "Rigoletto" and in "A Masked Ball", "Don Carlos" and in " La forza del destino". In fact the role of Otello can be properly interpreted only when you have all these previous roles already in your repertoire. Knowing this, I do only hope that one day, the time will come when I will be ready to sing this great part. In the meantime I do not want to put myself in a stressful situation, such as happened to Pavarotti, who had been asked for 10 years "when Otello?" and finally he decided to perform this role in the concert version. I heard this performance which, although good, has only confirmed that Pavarotti should not have decided to do this, because he did not "switch" his voice yet and sang Otello like role of Duke in "Rigoletto."

Have you heard Johan Botha’s performance in the latest staging of MET?

Yes. It's the same problem as with Pavarotti. The role of Otello is very complex, so one cannot use in this case only one sound idea. Just look at the score of "Otello" and all the interpretive nuances stored there by Verdi, how many "mezza voce", how many "sfocato", "appoggio", "appoggiato" etc. you will find. It is not opera written in a clear and simple way, there's a huge range of articulation options.

Is "Otello" the tenors’ Olimp?

I think so.

And who succeeded so far to climb to this summit? In other words, whose performances of ”Otello”, in your opinion, should we listen to enjoy the pleasure of well sung “Otello”?

Chilean tenor Ramon Vinay has recorded "Otello” three times. All three are very good, and the Vinay was, in my opinion, the best Otello in the history, of course, with all respect for other artists ...

Please tell us, what is the source of your fascination with people already somewhat forgotten, like Fritz Wunderlich, Richard Tauber or Jan Kiepura?

Piotr Beczała i Anna Netrebko - zdjęcie opublikowane dzieki uprzejmości Państwa Beczałów
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Because by their singing they touched some parts of my soul, and made a huge influence on what I do, on my choices, on my way of singing. By the way: in Poland, hardly anyone knows Wunderlich, but in Germany it's still a great figure. Among the Polish artist it is of course Kiepura and also well-known from my reading, not from recordings, Jan Reszke, oh, he was such a great artist! We should also remember Tito Schipa and Georges Thillu.

Does it mean that nowadays opera suffers from a lack of great personalities, or is it a characteristic longing for a golden age of opera, which has gone forever?

This is a result of the domination of the “Regie Theater”, in which the personality of the singer is not taken into account. This is a huge problem for me. Everybody complains, media and directors of opera houses, that there are no distinct personalities among singers, and on the other hand those personalities are "suppressed". Just imagine, "modern production" and the presence of the Franco Corelli in it. If Franco Corelli was in these circumstances, after three minutes he would ugly curse and go home, because most of the golden age opera singers, including Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras, had the good fortune to take part in great productions. To this day, looking on pictures we may admire them singing in wonderful costumes. And what we have now? You can see Kaufmann in short pants, or Beczała in t-shirt…

But perhaps it is so, because nowadays the directors of opera houses believe that the audience expects from them a "modern" approach to the art, and that the audience wants to be constantly surprised? Maybe this situation is worsened by the fact that the operas are staged by the directors, who did not understand, cannot hear the music, but they think that they must be modern?

The problem is, that nowadays stage directors think of opera singers as puppets in their hands, as the ordinary tool. For them, the most important are their own ideas and their “brilliant visions”, and the rest is completely irrelevant. And just not even try, as a singer, to “add” something from yourself, because you go out of the convention. But the truth is, that the audience still follows the singers, not the directors. If it is said that the major goal of modern productions of operas is to attract young people, why on the same occasion it is forgotten, that such approach "cast out of the theatre" the people, who for years attended opera houses and paid subscriptions. This happened for example in Germany. This is the best way to cause that within next couple of seasons we will have empty theaters.

A spectacular example of the modernization of the opera in recent years, an attempt to translate it to "the language of modernity" is Wagner’s "Ring of the Nibelung" staged and recorded on DVD by MET. In your opinion, is it a successful production?

Katarzyna i Piotr Beczałowie, Placido Domingo - zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Państwa Beczałów
 Click to magnify...

Yes, it is a successful production, but it is also the staging, which rather suites to cinema. In reality no one can hear opera singer singing in backstage direction, or standing with his back to the audience, and these are often requirements of the cameras. Then, there are heavy costumes, that are very uncomfortable to wear when you sing. It is a huge burden for the singers, so it seems that the live stage performances should not be combined with those, that are prepared primarily for cinemas or recording on DVD.

So what is the future of opera?

Multipath. Let's prepare productions, which provoke, but let’s do them for opera festivals. Such production should not “be pushed” to Munich, Vienna, Metropolitan, Covent Garden and La Scala, because people come there for something completely different. There, the audience comes to listen to a great singing, great interpretation of the music and wait for this magic moment, on which we talked earlier. The "extreme" directors should try at festivals, they should arrange them by their own means as well as they should involve singers, who agree with them. Let's not make "tired" with their experiments the "top" performers on the most important opera stages of the world.

So, you probably appreciates the New York Metropolitan Opera House, known widely for its rather conservative approach to opera staging?

Yes, I very much appreciate MET for this approach.

A few days ago we saw in LIVE transmission from MET " La clemenza di Tito ", an opera based on a very weak libretto ...

It is rather weaker Mozart opera ...

... Yes, but in this 28 years old classical productions of Ponnelli, there was a great Garanča, superb singing of Frittoli and Filianoti, who were supported by sensational singers of younger generation. As a result, the audience is delighted ...

Of course, because with operas is like with good apartments. The quality of the latter is determined by three factors - location, location and location again. In the opera, the three factors are - cast, cast and cast again. Coming back to the question of the future of opera, however, I am not afraid of it. There are in the opera world a lot of young, very talented singers, and I placed my hopes in them ...

And the money? Opera is very expensive.

Piotr Beczała - zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Katarzyny i Piotra Beczałów
Click to magnify...

I have red recently that the employee of a large international bank, embezzled 5 billion. I have also heard how many millions were spent on sound screens on the highway to Warsaw, and when I am driving there by car, I can see that these sound barriers were mostly completely unnecessary, because ... there are often only forests around ... Please let’s do not talk about money, because for these five billion you could stage all of the world's opera for two consecutive seasons. The problem is not with money, but with the minds of people who decide how to spend them. This is a permanent problem .

At the end of our conversation, please let’s go back to your beginnings. 20 years ago, at the beginning of your career path you went to Linz ...

I left, because I thought that this is a proper path. The same did Kiepura seventy years ago, when he left Poland, as well as did Rolando Villazon several years ago, who if he had not decided to leave Mexico, then no one ever heard about him. The same applies to Hampson, who left at some point America and Bartoli, who went out of Italy. I was not the first one and certainly will not be the last one.

We look with admiration upon you, when you talk with such passion about what "hurts" the contemporary singer ...

I just love my profession and I want to believe in its future.

So we need more such directors of opera houses as Peter Gelb from Met, who understands his time, its restrictions and requirements, and who attempts to “reconcile the water with the fire”, staging very classical production of" La clemenza ..." and, at the same time, producing cutting-edge "Der Ring des Nibelungen." Does it mean that the key for success and well-being of opera is opera theater’s director?

It is important whether such person loves opera and whether he may be convinced to certain ideas. The key is that the director should have the ability to listen to the opinions of so-called professional society. It must be the person who goes and watches various opera productions at various opera theaters, and who is not afraid to buy some of them for co-production on his own stage. He must be a true visionary.

Thank you very much for this conversation


Interview for opera.info.pl Beata i Michał Olszewscy

All rights reserved © opera.info.pl

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