Piotr Beczala, a rapidly rising star in the opera world, gave an all-opera recital in Santa Monica to the delight of a nearly sold-out house at the Broad Stage on December 12, 2016. He was accompanied by a 43-member opera orchestra – perhaps a bit of overkill in a 500-seat house. But no matter; the orchestra played magnificently.
Mr. Beczala began with De’ mei bollenti spiriti (La Traviata/Verdi) which he sang with a pure and very natural-sounding voice, with Italian “tears” used with discretion but in all the right places. Next came one of the best-known tenor arias by Verdi, Celeste Aida (Aida). Although this aria begins with fire, it ends on a pianissimohigh B-flat, a real test of the voice. Many tenors, particularly in a large opera house, don’t do the note justice. Here in a more intimate setting, Mr. Beczala pulled back and was able to sing pianissimo without breaking. It had a bit too much falsetto to be perfect, but now we are splitting hairs.
Next came another Verdi piece, Quando le sere al placido (Luisa Miller), a more production-line Verdi aria that didn’t give Mr. Beczala much scope. He made up for this with the final piece of the first half, Recondita armonia (Tosca/Puccini). This beautiful legato aria is not technically demanding, but it does require good tone and good breath control. For a professional like Mr. Beczala, it was a hanging curve ball and he hit it out of the park.
The second half began with L’anima ho stanca (Adriana Lecouvreur/Cilea). Then came the Flower Song from Carmen (Bizet), an aria like Celeste Aida, in that many try it and many fail, and for the same reason. After much passionate singing comes a pianissimo rising passage and a very soft close (Et j’étais une chose à toi ….. Carmen, je t’aime!). Done properly, it’s the most romantic passage one can imagine. Fumbled, it turns the aria into porridge. Mr. Beczala did it more than properly – he did it beautifully.
The following aria was Pourquoi me réveillier? (Werther/Massenet). Again Mr. Beczala was completely at home with passion and romance, but as the aria ends fortissimo, he received his biggest ovation of the night.
For the last scheduled aria he chose Vidino divná přesladká (Rusalka/Dvorak). This was the first and only time he ventured out of the Western European repertoire, which is disappointing. Surely one of the Verdi arias could have been replaced with something by Moniuszko?
An enthusiastic audience prevailed on Mr. Beczala for three encores: one from Countess Maritza (Kalman), E lucevan le stelle (Tosca/Puccini), and a deep dive into the schmaltz mines with Wien, nur du allein which to my surprise was written by Rudolf Sieczyński, born in Austria but of Polish ancestry. So Mr. Beczala did manage to give a little Polish touch, albeit far away south of the Danube, to the evening. He also demonstrated a real talent for the Viennese operetta style – I heard echoes of Fritz Wunderlich in those numbers.
Now, how are we going to get Mr. Beczala to sing with the Los Angeles Opera?