Piotr Beczala may be one of the new generation's top three tenors, along with Jonas Kaufmann and Juan Diego Flórez. Each has his specialty — Kaufmann's is drama, Flórez's is bel canto and Beczala's is ardent romanticism. That ardency was evident when the 45-year-old Polish tenor made his U.S. recital debut Saturday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The audience was primed and ready. Already some had loved him as Des Grieux opposite Anna Netrebro's Manon in a Met Opera broadcast this month. Others were making an important discovery.
For a recital, Beczala's program was heavy on operatic arias — seven arias by Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Gounod, Lehár and Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko. There were also songs by Leoncavallo, Beethoven, Schumann, Strauss and 19th-century compatriot composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz. Separately, accompanist Brian Zeger lovingly played pieces by Schumann and Chopin.
Beczala has a large, dark-toned tenor, fueled with power, finesse and emotion, and he generously withheld little of it. In fact, his voice was a physical force in the 499-seat theater, evoking a much larger space, or a need for a more scaled-down approach. At this point, he's not an intimate, word-painting recitalist.
The program began with large-scale joys of love — Verdi's Gustavo and Alfredo and vaulting songs by Strauss. Less happy love came in Schumann's "Dichterliebe," where Beczala initially held back but ended in his powerhouse way. Other highlights included Beethoven's "Adelaide," Lenski's arioso from "Eugene Onegin" and Jontek's aria from Moniuszko's "Halka." Romeo's balcony scene aria from Gounod's opera is a Beczala signature piece.