Salzburg Journal, Part II

Outside the Haus für Mozart in Salzburg.


They lived a bit in London, too — and Donald gave generously there. The Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Society, the British Museum, and on and on. In 2001, he was awarded an honorary OBE for his services to the arts.

Yet he was a lot more than money. I enjoyed talking to him about all sorts of things: politics, international affairs, music, people, relations between the sexes. His position as a Jew in Salzburg society. Etc.

I could quote him at length, but I’m going to wrap up now. Donald had his faults, as he would tell you. But he had great virtues, and I loved him, and I’m so glad I knew him.

Shall we talk about a tenor? He is Piotr Beczala, the second guest in our Salzburg Festival Society series. Beczala is a very big deal, so you should know how to pronounce his name: Beckshawa. (It’s true. Just go with it.)

He was born in 1966 — December — meaning that he was 24 when the Wall came down. That was pretty good timing for him. Have I mentioned he’s Polish? I should have.

He first went to the West before the Wall came down: in the mid-1980s. He was with a singing group, if I remember correctly. They did not have two cents, of course. At some point, they wanted to go to Rome, to see the (Polish) pope. But they ran out of money for fuel, or anything else. They stopped in Venice, where they sang in the streets.

Beczala’s first professional engagement, I think.

He tells us a little about Communist days: You had meat just twice a year, at Easter and at Christmas. That’s if you were lucky. “It probably seems stupid today . . .” No, it doesn’t.

He tells us how he developed his voice. He had several teachers, including Sena Jurinac, the famed soprano (Bosnian-Austrian). I ask what language they communicated in. He says, “We call it ‘Slavic mix’” — some Russian, some Polish, some Czech, some Serbo-Croatian . . .

I go through a list of tenors with him: Caruso, Gigli, Bjoerling, Pavarotti, others. He is particularly high on Bjoerling, I would say, and also on Wunderlich (good taste).

Gigli? Such a beautiful voice, a sweet voice — often sang in a kind of half voice. Not ideal for everything. Pavarotti? Great, of course. And “unique.” But he had a tendency to sing everything the same. (True.)

Beczala tells us about learning to sing high notes. Part of it is physical, he says, and part of it is psychological. You have to imagine how to sing those notes — imagine yourself doing it.

Like many a singer, Beczala is a golfer. And, like many a singer, he says that the parallels between golf and singing are endless.

Here at the festival, he’s singing in the Verdi Requiem, under Riccardo Muti. (The orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic.) Along with him in the quartet of soloists is Krassimira Stoyanova, the Bulgarian soprano.

I say that, in my opinion, she is underrated: well-known, but not on the covers of magazines, etc. Beczala agrees (I think). Then he goes on to tell us something about the music biz.

To be a celebrity, you have to kind of drive for it. You have to hustle. You have to get on television, and get your face in magazines. You can sing 500 first-rate performances, here and there — but if you’re not on TV . . .

So it is in many professions. So screwy.

Anyway, Beczala is not only a treat of a tenor, he’s a treat of a guest: a superb interviewee, personable and interesting.

Let me close with some ice cream: poppyseed ice cream. Whoever came up with the idea: My hat is off to him, way off.

See you tomorrow.


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