Few singers are in such demand by the world’s leading opera houses as Polish lyric baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, so we were lucky enough to catch up with him during a break in rehearsals for The Royal Opera’s revival of Le Nozze di Figaro as he prepares to sing the role of Count Almaviva for the first time in London.
Charming, dashingly good looking and in terrific shape it’s plain to see why opera houses’ casting directors are queuing up to secure Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien’s services for a whole host of roles, most notably Don Giovanni, Escamillo and Count Almaviva. He certainly looks the part and in the last revival of Francesca Zambello’s staid staging of Don Giovanni oozed so much charisma and sex appeal that he lit up the stage whenever he appeared. Given that he is such a stage animal, It came as a bit of surprise once we started talking about his informative years as a teenager, that he told me he used to hate opera. I liked choral music and chamber music but when I was a teenager I didn’t like opera, but I didn’t have a voice for opera so I started singing in a chorus and then met a teacher who was a fantastic woman and she said that I had a voice and should practise.
Discovering that he had this talent led Mariusz to study at the Academy of Music in Krakow and three years later he won a local singing competition in the lied category as he still hated opera, but only when he heard his friend singing in the opera category did it first dawn on him that opera might be for him, as I was amazed by what a wonderful voice he had, and how powerful it was, so I decided that I wanted to sing like him.
Within a very short of space of time, having had lessons from his friend’s singing teacher, Mariusz made his debuts at some of the most important opera houses in the world such as La Scala Milan, the Paris Opra and Vienna where a manager from Columbia Artists happened to hear him and invited him to the Metropolitan Opera, New York to become part of the Young Artists’ Programme. For someone who hated opera he’s come a long way but his dislike for the artform was more to do with bad performance practice as he likes the theatre but couldn’t abide the ‘stand and deliver’ nature of the performance. He grew up in a country where everyone sings, When you’re happy you sing, when you’re sad you sing, when you drink vodka you sing, so singing was obviously in the blood.
He cites his early years at the Met as being instrumental in his development as an artist. When I arrived I thought ‘this is great’ I will be singing all the major roles, but it was not quite like that. I needed discipline and I started to learn some languages, and different styles of singing. It took a lot of patience and I had the benefit of listening to some great singers so knew what to do and more importantly what I shouldn’t do.
If only all singers had such candour. Happy in the knowledge that he is a lyric baritone he is quite content to stay within that fach for the time being, which is good news for his admirers as he plans to carry on singing Mozart for the foreseeable future and having sung Don Giovanni at The Royal Opera a couple of seasons ago, You need balls to sing Don Giovanni, you must save it all for the end when you explode, then die, returns as Count Almaviva in David McVicar’s acclaimed staging of Le Nozze di Figaro He is full of praise for McVicar and the exacting demands he’s making of the singers in rehearsal, but also for The Royal Opera House. This is definitely my favourite opera house in Europe. I have two favourite opera houses, The Met and Covent Garden. I love this place because of the people every person in every department is fabulous, helpful and smart. I like the quality of the productions and having just come from an orchestral rehearsal with Maestro Davis can’t praise him or the orchestra too highly.
When I ask about what roles are on the horizon he’s quick to mention that he’s about to tackle Wolfram in Tannhuser and appears with the Bolshoi Opera this August at Covent Garden in one of his most highly acclaimed roles, Yevgeny Onegin. And further ahead? Well let’s chat again in ten to fifteen years’ time but I would love to be singing Ballo in maschera, and Don Carlos One opera about which he is especially passionate is King Roger by fellow countryman Szymanowski. He has sung the title role many times across Europe, yet it’s a work that is crying out to be seen in London. Given how much he enjoys performing at Coven Garden, maybe that’s something they could mount for him? It’s just a thought!
Mariusz Kwiecien sings Count Almaviva in The Royal Opera’s revival of David McVicar’s staging of Le Nozze di Figaro from 31 May 2010.