Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

First Things First

May 01, 2012

Piotr Beczala Photo: Johannes Ifkovitz
While I'm in New York this week, a number of OWA's team of roving eyes and ears were out and about. Bon vivant and man-about-town Ben Vanaman also filed this report following Saturday's recital from Piotr Beczala at The Broad Stage.

Anticipation was high for the recital given by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala this weekend at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Not only was his star turn opposite Anna Netrebko in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent run of Massanet’s Manon fresh on one’s mind, but this was the singer’s first public recital according to Broad director Dale Franzen in remarks to the audience before the evening’s performance. This seems remarkable given the breadth of the singer’s operatic work, much of it in Europe. However, let’s accept our good fortune, because this was such a memorable occasion. L.A. has seen recitals over the past couple of years from a roster of operatic luminaries ranging from Rene Pape to Jonas Kaufmann, Dmitri Horostovsky to Karita Mattila, but Beczala stood right with them in delivering a fully committed and engaged performance.

Flanked by noted accompanist Brian Zeger, Beczala strode onto the stage radiating joy and confidence before launching directly into “Di’ tu se fedele” from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. The aria’s portent of fate yielded smoothly enough to the impassioned serenade of Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata,” Beczala concluding the first portion of his recital with a reading of “Dei miei bollenti spirit” from La Traviata that felt slightly more tentative than his thrilling delivery of the first two numbers. Still, this is a magnificent voice, particularly at the top, where it sounded clarion and secure, even if on occasion a little showoff-ish. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

One was particularly grateful to Beczala for programming a generous selection of operatic arias, including such rarities as the “Song of the Indian Merchant” from Rimsky-Korsakof’s Sadko, and the haunting “Jontek’s Aria” from Stanslaw Moniuzko’s Halka. The program’s second half, largely focused on the work of Russian and Polish composers, found Beczala more relaxed and opened-up. Here, he included four short songs by 19th Century Polish composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, yet the lieder selections –including seven songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe in the first half- didn’t seem as interpretively powerful as they might have been apart from a commandingly sung trio of Richard Strauss songs before intermission. But perhaps this only seemed the case because German baritone Matthias Goerne raised the bar so high on the lieder recital in his nuanced and mesmerizing performances last week of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise at Disney Hall.

Still, there’s no disputing that Beczala’s the real deal. He has a ringing instrument that, combined with a generally authoritative delivery, brought the house down even before the recital was over: Romeo’s aria “Ah! Leve toi, soleil!” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, the evening’s penultimate selection, was followed by an impromptu standing ovation. A spirited reading of Franz Lehar’s “Freunde, das Leben is lebenswert” from Giuditta concluded the official part of the program. There were a few additional quibbles. Accompanist Zeger soloed with Schumann and Chopin selections that were no doubt intended to let Beczala rest his voice, but these intervals were distracting. And the encores, led off by “O Sole Mio,” felt like a carnival sideshow with Beczala hamming it up unnecessarily. But this is not to detract from the excellence delivered in this recital by a singer at the seeming peak of his career, but for whom some further recital discipline might be warranted. It’s worth mention that Beczala’s rapturously floating pianissimos at the end of the Rimsky-Korsakov aria and one of the Karlowicz songs proved even more thrilling than when he was singing full voice.


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