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Live from New York, it’s the Met with an elixir for moviegoers

Mariusz Kwiecien

Mariusz Kwiecien

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‘L’Elisir d’Amore’

When: Starting at 11:55 a.m. Saturday

Where: 22 area cinemas

Tickets: $22-$24. New this season: student prices, $11.50-$20

Info: metopera.org or fathomevents.com

Updated: November 13, 2012 6:16AM



When it comes to the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” series, Polish-born baritone Mariusz Kwiecien is an old pro.

The Met launches its seventh season of live simulcasts to cinemas worldwide with its new production of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” (starting at 11:55 a.m. Saturday). It marks the fourth “Live in HD” appearance for Kwiecien, who sings Sgt. Belcore opposite soprano Anna Netrebko as the wily Adina and tenor Matthew Polenzani as the lovesick Nemorino.

Kwiecien, who starred in two other Donizetti operas, along with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” for “Live in HD” productions during past seasons, doesn’t get intimidated about performing before a global audience. The Met now simulcasts to more than 1,900 movie theaters in 63 countries worldwide.

“Usually we don’t think about those viewers in all those theaters,” he said in an interview from the Met’s offices in New York. “I try to perform in the same way. We just sing for the audience right in front of us. I know there are cameras on the left and right side of me. It’s challenging, but I don’t think about the cameras catching me sweat or twisting my face while I’m singing.”

Belcore has become a signature role for Kwiecien, who also sang it last season at the Met, in the previous production by John Copley. The new staging, by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher, which opened the Met’s 2012-13 season, offers a darker take on what is usually just a sweet comedy. “The previous production was like a cartoon, very traditional, full of life and sparkle, in a good way,” he said. “Bart’s approach is darker. Sher comes from the theater, so he wants to have the characters full of human blood, not just cartoonish onstage. The critics were not so enthusiastic [about Sher’s interpretation], but you can judge for yourself.”

In the end, the story remains the same: “The bad guy is Belcore, who loses the girl, but this time just with fewer laughs.”

Though some may question Met general manager Peter Gelb’s strategy of bringing more theater-based directors to opera, fewer have criticized his new media initiatives, such as the “Live in HD” series, designed to attract a new generation of operagoers.

“I absolutely agree with [Gelb’s] policy of making the Met the worldwide opera house,” Kwiecien said. “Not everyone can afford the ticket and flight. Even my own family can’t come to New York, they are watching me in movie theaters from Poland.” He added with a laugh: “They probably are enjoying it much more.”

Here’s more from Mariusz:

Q. “Elixir of Love” reunites you with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, the leading opera diva of our day. What makes her so special?

A. When you see her, you know why you are coming to the opera. Plus, she has one of the most beautiful voices of our time. But she says this is her last “-ina” role. Her voice is heavier now. She’s always trying to make her personality very present, very simple yet real and giving all she has. That’s what I try to do, too. We became friends after being partners onstage. We are about the same age, and we are from Slavic countries, so we have a natural bond.

Q. This summer at Santa Fe Opera, you gave what had to be one of the opera world’s greatest performances in recent years with your portrayal of the title role in Szymanowski’s “King Roger.”

A. Thank you, I am glad it has been so well-received. The music in this opera is just first-class. I am going to do the role again this fall at Bilbao Opera [in Spain] and I am talking with Philadelphia about doing a production of it there. Also, maybe in Houston.

Q. You turn 40 in November; you’ve been singing professionally for almost 20 years. Do you feel you’ve reached a milestone?

A. Forty is still young but young in different way than it was even 20 years ago. As a person, I am happy the way I am now. I became an opera singer because I wanted to be a singer. Sometimes opera has too many clichés. There is more real acting in dramatic theater. So that’s why I always try to create something more interesting dramatically onstage. I cannot do things otherwise. It wouldn’t be honest. This is what makes is what makes me the person I am onstage. Some women have curly hair but they want to have straight ones. It’s better to be honest.

Opera ultimately is theater, it is not just opera, it is acting. Some people get upset when they hear a voice crack. Not me. I like the drama and the genuine emotion it represents. If the voice cracks because it represents honesty, I would not be ashamed of that.

Q. Would you consider performing on Broadway, like fellow opera baritone Paulo Szot (winner of a 2008 Tony Award for his performance in “South Pacific”)?

A. I know Paulo Szot, he’s Polish like me. But I want to be Mariusz Kwiecien. There are many opera roles that fit my voice as a lyric baritone. Like Figaro in “The Barber of Seville.” It fits my voice but I don’t like the character; he’s boring.

In the beginning, it was Mozart that was a good fit, so I did a lot of that. “Don Giovanni” is still with me after 10 years. But I find the Don is somehow limiting to the voice. If you want to sing or act with real sound, then you must go to bel canto or Verdi. So later in my career, it will be very natural for me to sing those human-like or more masculine-like roles like Iago [in Verdi’s “Otello”], “Simon Boccanegra,” “Don Carlo” and maybe Germont in “La traviata.” But I could see singing the Count in “The Marriage of Figaro” for many more years.

Q. Many Slavic-language operas are unknown to American audiences. Are there others you’d like to perform in the United States? For instance, the Polish opera “Halka,” by Stanislaw Moniuszko, which is occasionally staged outside Europe.

A. Unfortunately, I don’t think the music [of “Halka”] has much value. It doesn’t have even 1 percent of the greatness of “King Roger.” I don’t think much of Czech operas. There is basically nothing for me in them. Maybe Janacek but I’m not crazy about it. It’s better for sopranos and tenors. I’d rather be doing my Italian operas and works like “King Roger.”

That opera for me is like “Billy Budd” is for [American baritone] Nathan Gunn. People ask me if I would sing that role but why should I try to do that role when Nathan Gunn is so perfect for it? That’s the way I hope people feel about me and “King Roger.”

Note: This season, the Met and Fathom Events are offering “Live in HD” reduced-price tickets for students, $11.50-$20.

In the Chicago area, the following cinemas are offering the student discounts: Regal Webster Place 11 and Regal City North 14 in Chicago; Cinemark Evanston 18; Cinemark Woodridge 17 with IMAX; Cinemark Joliet; Century 16, Deer Park; Century Stratford Square; Goodrich Randall 15 with IMAX, in Batavia.

More details at fathomevents.com.



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