Q & A: Countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński on Taking Handel & ‘Rinaldo’ On Tour

By David Salazar

Next Sunday, March 25, New York audiences will get to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event as Harry Bicket and The English Concert takes the stage of Carnegie Hall with a superstar cast. While the likes Luca Pisaroni, Jane Archibald, and Iestyn Davies are likely to have everyone’s attention before the showcase, it is another artist that could also steal some of the limelight.

His name is Jakub Jósef Orliński and he is a Polish countertenor currently making a name for himself on this tour of “Rinaldo” with the ensemble. The group just left Spain and the UK after performances in Sevilla, Madrid, and London. Orliński has been among the stars in the performance, earning solid reviews all around.

And while he’s also made headlines before for his breakdancing, his recent chat with OperaWire centered mainly on the experience of “Rinaldo.”

OperaWire: You are currently in the midst of a tour of “Rinaldo” in four different cities. Do you make adjustments for the different halls? And how do you prepare for that given the small amount of time between each performance?

Jakub Jósef Orliński: For me, the key is the preparation in my studio, by myself. I need to put every single note and word in my system, my body. It has to become very natural and organic. I sometimes say that I am consuming a character so I can really become that particular person from the opera. If it comes to different halls, I grew up in a choir where I had to constantly listen to the others and adjust. Listen to the hall’s acoustics and react to it. That is why I think I can quickly feel the room and adjust to it. Also, every space is inspiring in its own way so I am sure all of our performances are going to be a little bit different. In an interesting and exciting way.

OW: You are doing a concert version of the work, as opposed to a fully staged one. How does your musical approach change between a staged work and a concert performance?

JJO: I think my approach does not change much. I do exactly the same preparation as for the staged version. Of course, during the concert version, you can concentrate a little bit more just on the vocal parts. One big difference is that I usually write my ornaments to the scene. I try to adjust them to the character but also to the staging. Now, as it is a concert version, I don’t have to do that, because there is no staging, no costumes, and scenography, which usually have a big input in my ornamentation. And a second thing is that most of the time costumes and the whole scenography help to put the audience in a specific place and atmosphere which helps to deliver the text and the emotion. I feel like in a concert version we really have to exaggerate our intentions in the text because we don’t have all those helping tools.

OW: Tell me about how you interpret the character of Eustazio.

JJO: It is quite a challenge to sing Eustazio because I have always imagined him as this older, very experienced man. He is very responsible, thinks about his next steps and seeks the best reasonable solutions. He seems to be very well organized. He shows a lot of passion and engagement in the case. I like that about him.

OW: How is he similar or different from you as a person?

JJO: I think I am also pretty well organized and I am passionate about situations I am involved in, so I do think we have quite a few things in common with Eustazio. I just have to fight through a little bit because when I did “Rinaldo” in Frankfurt as Rinaldo, I felt that I had to be very spontaneous, which sits in my nature. Now I have to take my spontaneous actions down a little bit.

OW: As you noted, you actually performed the title role of the opera in Frankfurt this fall. Which of the roles suits your artistic temperament better, Eustazio or Rinaldo? And how does singing the role of Rinaldo inform your approach to interpreting Eustazio?

JJO: I loved performing Rinaldo and I think it is much closer to my artistic temperament. Rinaldo is a knight in love. He is able to do everything to save his beloved. He is spontaneous, heroic and has that youth and strength which I really like. Our staging in Frankfurt was very physical so that is why I loved doing that role. I think Ted Huffman did a crazy good job making such a great staging/playground for us.

It really helps to know the opera so well. I think after those few months I have new thoughts about the whole story and I am loving the idea of doing it again but looking from someone else’s point of view.

OW: What are the challenges of singing works by Handel?

JJO: I think Handel is one of those composers who really demands everything from a singer. You need to technically be able to do fast coloraturas, slow movements and show all sorts of rhetorical figures, but at the same time, I feel like it should all look like it is easy and natural. To have freedom and make people believe that you are creating this line at this very moment. Handel is very good about writing beautiful lines and also about creating very virtuosic arias. My favorite arias are those accompanied by strings recits, like the one before Ottone’s lament in “Agrippina.”

OW: What makes “Rinaldo” unique among Handel’s canon?  

JJO: Rinaldo is unique for me for a few reasons. I really love the whole composition. I feel like I would love to sing all of the roles. Also, for me, the opera sounds a little bit like the greatest hits. There is one amazing number after another. Almost no weak points. The last reason is that since I started studying solo singing I dreamt of performing the title role and it happened last year in Frankfurt.

OW: Do you have a favorite moment in the opera?

JJO: It is very difficult to choose my favorite moment because there are quite a few which I just adore. For example Argante’s aria “Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto” or “Vieni o cara.” I also love the beginning of the second act, the scene with the sirens. It has something magical in it.

OW: As someone who sings a lot of baroque music, what are the keys to succeeding in this style? What do you find most exciting about the style?

JJO: For me, it always has been the freedom and passion. I come from a family where almost everyone is a painter, architect, graphic designer or sculptor. That is why I see that freedom in baroque music as a painting. There are rules in style, there are a lot of things to follow, but there are also so many choices to make. Starting from ornamentation that you can do in so many different ways. By those ornaments, you can show your creativity but also get even deeper into the piece showing your artistic persona. Highlighting words which you think mean something more or playing with all the volume effects. It can all be filtered by your own life experiences, which will inspire your choices. It’s all a little bit like choosing the right colors for the painting and then the right frame. I am just truly fascinated and adore the fact that we have so many options in that style.



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