Piotr Beczala: A Lyric Tenor With A Tear
PIOTR BECZALA RECITAL
LIEDER AND ARIAS
THE ELI & EDYTHE BROAD STAGE
SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA
SEEN APRIL 28, 2012
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Polish lyric tenor Piotr Beczala is making quite a name for himself. Audiences are eager to discover the new greatest tenor in the world since from the golden era, only Plácido Domingo remains prominent, and Domingo has become more baritonal lately than anything else. He is the greatest living tenor. Plus he is a remarkable human being, conductor, musician, multi-tasker and mentor. It seems that even “he” is attempting to find a successor.
The problem is that there are many talented young tenors who are receiving excellent training – probably more now than ever before. But none of them seem to be the one greatest tenor of this generation. A tenor might be labeled the great new discovery of the year, but a few years later, that same tenor is often placed on a list with all the others who failed to make the grade. The pathetic part is that they are all excellent, but where is this generation’s one or two greatest who are in the league with those of the past? The audiences and critics are getting nervous. They’re salivating like Pavlovian dogs — optimistically willing to make the leap of faith when any noteworthy contender surfaces.
So is Piotr Beczala “the one”? He made a splash with Anna Netrebko recently in the Met’s production of “Manon.” He is singing at all the great opera houses. So it is a feather in the cap of the Broad Stage’s director, Dale Franzen, for having landed him for his first U.S. recital, but then she is a “recovered opera singer,” she says, so she knows a good tenor when she hears one. But it goes both ways: For a singer, the Broad Stage acoustics are a dream.
So what is it about Beczala that is so engaging?
First off, he has a beautifully focused, clear, often sweet, and lyrical timbre that is ideal for certain types of pieces. There is a tear in his voice along with some ping, which was very evident from the balcony. His voice has been likened to that of Fritz Wunderlich. It has a similar quality but has not reached the depths of Wunderlich’s artistry. And his tear and vocal emotionality are still not yet at the level of my favorite tenor, the sublime Jussi Björling. Still, of today’s crop of talented tenors, there is a singular quality to his voice that is at times haunting. His emotionality and presence aren’t quite there yet, but the promise of their realization is evident.
Beczala immediately endeared himself to the audience with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Di tu se fedele” from “Un Ballo in Maschera.” But he would have served the audience better had he begun the recital with the graceful Leoncavallo melody, “Mattinata,” which he sang second.
One of the standouts of the evening was Beethoven’s “Adelaide.” Then he sang seven of the 16 songs from Schumann’s “Dichterliebe,” based on poems by Heinrich Heine on unrequited love and longing. Beczala did not disappoint, nor did his fine pianist, Brian Zeger, who played the cycle with René Pape in Los Angeles last year. Before intermission, Beczala concluded with a grouping of Strauss Lieder.
Then the program switched to Russian fare with Lenski’s arioso from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Song of the Indian Merchant” from “Sadko,” Jontek’s aria from Moniuszko’s “Halka,” some Karlowicz selections, Gounod’s “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!” from “Roméo et Juliette,” and Octavio’s aria from Lehár’s “Giuditta.”
And in between, Brian Zeger played Chopin mazurkas to fill time and allow Beczala to rest his voice, I assume. Zeger was reading the music. If he was going to cross over and become a concert pianist, he should have performed Chopin with the artistry required of a concert pianist. He is an incredibly talented accompanist, sensing every nuance of a singer’s performance, every breath. Unfortunately, his interpretations of the Chopin pieces did not have the same degree of sensitivity and musicianship.
Nevertheless, the recital was about Piotr Beczala. Beczala’s strength is his lyric, focused, beautiful sound which serves him well with German Lieder, melodic Italian operas, roles like Mozart’s Tamino, and the French fare. After intermission, I heard him from a downstairs orchestra seat. His voice was fuller with less ping than from the balcony. He didn’t seem to have the Russian soul. I noticed specifically in “Zueignung,” Lenski’s arioso, and in the Lehár piece that once the narrow lyric sound was no longer essential, Beczala’s passion and onstage charisma dwindled. He should have ended the recital with “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!” and saved the Lehár song for an encore with more added charm.
His voice sounded slightly tired at the end, not cresting at the top on one tone, not supported enough to be open and free on a few others. And he seemed a little insecure with the audience during the encores. His first, “O sole mio,” seemed out-of-place. He concluded with Rossini’s “La danza.”
But all said and done, Beczala’s voice stands out from the rest, which is encouraging, even inspiring. If he continues to perfect his craft and shine, he could be the one that everyone is searching for.