Baritone from Poland now a hot commodity in opera

Mariusz Kwiecien

As a kid, Mariusz Kwiecien says, he hated opera.

Not anymore.

The 30-year-old Polish baritone is one of the hottest young singers on the international opera scene, performing in the major opera houses of the world – The Metropolitan in New York, La Scala in Milan, Paris, Vienna, Sao Paulo, San Francisco. Throw a dart at the globe and he’s probably performed there or will soon.

Saturday he makes his debut with Seattle Opera, singing the role of Dr. Malatesta in “Don Pasquale.” He’s sung 300 performances since taking the stage at 23 and is booked for the next four years.

“I have a good start on a successful career,” he said. Talk about your understatement.

Kwiecien takes pride in his accomplishments. At 22, he says his dream was to sing in the biggest opera houses of the world, and at 30 he’s just about there.

There’s pride, but he’s not boastful. The young singer, who looks like a rock star with his handsome dark features and engaging smile, recounts his rise to fame in a manner that is disarming.

He could sing perfect pitch at 14 months. “My mom said I was a golden child.”

“I wanted to be a pop singer,” he continued. “I hated opera. That vibrato singing, it was the most disgusting thing in the whole world.”

But then he was “discovered” by a teacher who heard him singing. He began formal lessons at 18, won prizes and joined The Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development program. Kwiecien made his debut in his native Poland at Krakow Opera. At 24, he sang at La Scala.

As a youngster, the artist enjoyed rock music. These days, he listens to jazz. He likes music “with soul” he said, but prefers listening to opera live.

In a CD you hear perfection, but that’s not the way it is in performance, he says. On stage, singers and musicians make mistakes, and that’s what makes opera immediate and exciting.

Kwiecien gives off a kind of kinetic energy in person. His compact frame bristles with excitement as he talks about the energy in his body and his voice. He snaps his fingers in rapid-fire succession.

His English is solid – he has a huge vocabulary – and his speaking voice is thrilling in its richness and volume, giving tantalizing glimpses of what’s to come.

He speaks several languages including Italian, a great help when it comes to performing Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”

“When I sing in Italian, they say, ‘You sing like an Italian,’ ” Kwiecien said with obvious pride.

He loves opera, loves to perform.

“If you give on the stage your whole energy, your passion and love, you are successful,” he said.

And when he performs, “I’m giving you everything I have.”

By Mike Murray, Herald Writer