Piotr Beczała

born 28 December 1966 Czechowice-Dziedzice

Piotr Beczała sings La traviata: Dei miei bollenti spiriti ... O mio rimorso
In RA format

Piotr Beczała sings Requiem: Ingemisco
Traviata, April 23rd and 26th, 2008
Vienna opera lovers recently had three occasions to meet Piotr Beczała: one of the public interviews that the "Friends of the Vienna Staatsoper" association is regularly holding (long since abolished), and two Traviata performances at the Staatsoper (he had to cancel the first of the originally planned three since he had caught a cold). I was present on all three occasions because I have been waiting for Beczała to return to Vienna for seven years now; in summer 2001, he had sung in Chajkovskij's Jolanta at the Theater an der Wien, and it had been a really, really memorable performance, though his voice had been small (the Theater an der Wien is a tiny theatre, so it was no problem there), and I had doubted that he could sing at the Staatsoper. (He had sung three Mozart performances there in 1998 and 1999, replacing two other tenors, but I had not heard those first Staatsoper evenings.)

The interview (on April 22nd, 2008) revealed a smart, likeable and highly self-critical singer, who is intelligent enough to learn from historical records; his favorite tenor is Fritz Wunderlich, which is certainly not a bad choice for a mostly lyrical singer. Beczała told that he had studied voice in his native Poland, and that he had heavy problems after receiving his diploma (with distinction) due to incompetent teaching: "To sum it up, I shouted", he said, "and I had a distinction, but no top." His first engagement was in Linz/Austria, and he had obviously a hard time there, possessing a more beautiful voice than the other tenors at that theatre, as he recalled, but the worst top of them all. "I said to myself: I look like Nicolai Gedda" (which is true, by the way), "and he nails all those high Ds, while I can barely hit a B flat. Something must be wrong." (The above Traviata excerpt, the cabaletta above all, still shows signs of his early technique, or lack of.) Well, to cut a long story short, he restudied, became an excellent singer (though the acuti will never be his true domain), a mainstay of the Zürich Opera, and is making an international career in the meantime.

The first of the two Traviatas that he could sing found his voice still a little handicapped by the cold he had caught; he was slightly hoarse, and accordingly cautious – and simply excellent. His phrasing was so outstanding, his musicality so far above the average, that he seemed to really step into Wunderlich's shoes, but without a hint of imitating him. And the voice has grown much, much bigger than seven years ago – it's not at all too small for a really big theater now! I immediately thought that I wanted to hear him in good voice, too, and attended also the second performance.

It was, however, relatively disappointing, Relatively, I stress, since those two Traviatas (also the second, that is) were still the very best evenings at the Staatsoper in quite many years, not only thanks to Beczała, but also to Krassimira Stoyanova and Željko Lučiċ, both great and incredibly underrated singers (Stoyanova, for me, is certainly in the Netrebko-Gheorghiu league, without being half as well-known). And yet, Beczała in excellent voice did not do the same diligent job as when he had to be careful with his voice. I noticed some pushing here and there, or some overloud notes, as if he was still anxious to be really heard in a large theatre (for which there is, I repeat, no more reason at all), and also the phrasing was not as accurate as three days earlier. This was reminiscent of Bonisolli, somehow, who always gave his best performances when he was sick, and sometimes even when his doctor had forbidden him to sing... But I repeat, still a memorable effort, no doubt.

Piotr Beczała sings La traviata: Un dì felice, with Krassimira Stoyanova
In RA format

January 2012
Since I wrote my last notes on Beczała, he has developed in a certainly unfortunate way. His remarkable modesty has given way, surprisingly quickly, to a somewhat artificial over-confidence (probably incited by some managing genius?) that makes him stress at every possible or impossible opportunity that he is "of course" singing all high Cs in key since transposing means deceiving the audience and so forth. Which latter is admittedly true, it just... seems inappropriate for a tenor whose high Cs are still as insecure as Beczała's. True, sometimes he sings excellent, radiant Cs (at the Vienna Staatsoper, he did in Bohème, though the rest of his performance was pretty uninspired and lacking in emotional involvement), but certainly as often, he has serious problems hitting his "of course" C, notably in his new cheval-de-bataille, Gounod's Faust (so the sound example posted here from Roméo et Juliette is by no means a mere unfortunate exception), and in a dreadful Vienna performance of Lucia, he even cracked far lower tones.
Piotr Beczała tries a high C at the end of Roméo et Juliette: Ah! jour de deuil
April 2023
Incredible, but true: after quite a few years of boring, uninspired singing on the one hand and cracking and yodelling on the other, Beczała recovered. At age 56, he's still going strong, and most of his performances are satisfactory (for contemporary standards even outstanding). His recovery set in with a Lohengrin at the Dresden Semperoper in 2016; I heard that performance on TV only, but was impressed. A few days ago, I heard his Lohengrin on stage of the Vienna Staatsoper, it still sounded good, but he was (like so many singers now at the Staatsoper) miked; why cannot even those singers whose voices are sufficient sing real opera, and that means: without a microphone?

His repertory has grown more but not too dramatic: he sings now Cavaradossi (ok), Don José (not too convincing), Maurizio (good!)... and he was once more, after too many years, precisely as good as in that 2001 Jolanta. The miracle happened again at the Theater an der Wien, where in 2019 he sang a phenomenal Jontek in a great Halka production devised, coddled and put through by Beczała himself. (By the way, a positively sensational, ultra-modern staging that proved once again that while most modern productions are admittedly awful, only modern staging can save opera, and that the "Eurotrash" or "Regietheater" bashers are the Trumpists of operatic life: monumental, dangerous idiots.)

To sum it up, while Beczała disappointed me more often than he satisfied my ears, I also owe him two of the very best operatic experiences of my life, so I would certainly classify him as one of the very few life-sized figures in our contemporary operatic dwarf era.

I wish to thank Helmut Krautschneider for the recording (Dei miei bollenti spiriti ... O mio rimorso).
I wish to thank Vladimir Efimenko for the recording (Ingemisco).
Picture source: Piotr Beczała's website

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