Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has delivered some of the finest performances of the past decade, cementing himself as one of the greatest singing actors of his generation.
Born on Nov. 4, the baritone has explored a wide-range of repertoire, always showcasing nuance in both his singing and his acting. He started his career back in native Poland before becoming a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Program, and then become a staple at such companies as the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House, and Seattle Opera among others.
At just 45, his career still has a long way to go and yet we have a number of video performances to celebrate. Here are the absolute best of Kwiecien.
His interpretation as the famed character has grown and developed over the years, but his recording from the ROH is the only one available for immediate purchase (his Met rendition is available on the company’s streaming service). We get to see Kwiecien’s ability to transform the elegant Don into an increasingly Nihilistic being, adding aggression into Mozart’s incredible score.
Another ambiguous male lead, Kwiecien makes us despise Eugene in this recording from the Met and yet find him rather empathetic with his cool and collected manner. The baritone’s acting is quite fascinating in this particular recording and his chemistry with star soprano Anna Netrebko has never quite been better, the final scene a battle of wills both vocally and from a physical standpoint. His interactions with Piotr Beczala also elevate the character quite a bit, with Kwiecien allowing us to feel the torment in the big duel scene and thereafter. He does have another video recording of the work, but here the characterization is more developed and nuanced overall.
Aside from “Don Giovanni,” where he isn’t quite that humorous, this is the only opportunity to see the baritone take on a rather comic role and just have a ton of fun. Paired with Netrebko, John del Carlo, and Matthew Polenzani, Kwiecien is, in many ways, the driving force of this production and his ability to explore the different relationships he shares with his other co-stars is quite intricate. It makes for delicious comedy, particularly seeing him and Anna Netrebko flirting quite openly, or his conspiring with Del Carlo later on in the work.
Les Pêcheur de Perles
As you may have noticed from other recordings listed above, Kwiecien has an incredible skill for developing characters over the course of an opera and really unwrapping often overlooked details. This might be his finest such performance as the nuance that he displays in his duet with Diana Damrau at the tail-end of the opera is one of the best recorded in recent years. We feel his anger, his guilt, his love (or is it passion), his kindness, his tenderness, and then suddenly see him as a violent being. And this is just one scene, with that level of vocal and dramatic depth present throughout the work as a whole.
We are aware that there are other great recordings by the baritone, but these are our favorites. Which are yours and why?