He has mastered many roles across Germany, including performances in Wagner operas. But this year, Polish baritone Tomasz Konieczny celebrates his first appearance at Bayreuth – and hopefully not his last.Born 1972 in the Polish city of Lodz, Konieczny has performed Wagner around the world. He has taken on such challenging roles as Alberich or Wotan and his latest tour takes in cities such as Munich, Warsaw, New York, Milan and Madrid in the coming months.
But his first stop is Bayreuth, where he will be on stage for the first time. On opening night, Tomasz Konieczny will be playing the role of Telramund in Wagner’s “Lohengrin.”
Deutsche Welle: The part of Telramund comes with its own challenges. He’s weak, easy to manipulate and a failure – not exactly the kind of role that audiences will warm up to. How do you deal with that?
Tomasz Konieczny: This production of Lohengrin takes a different approach in terms of the Telramund role. I never thought that this evil character could ever become so poetic. The role isn’t exactly what I wished for here in Bayreuth but everything else is perfect — such as the conductor and the production itself, not to mention the fact that I get to be part of the opening night premiere. To be able participate in all that, you have to be willing to make some compromises.
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In order to get to sing in Bayreuth you have to dedicate a lot of your time to being here, and to sacrifice many other things. For instance, I have had to cancel three performances at the Scala in Milan. But once you’re here you see that it all pays off from the beginning.
On my first day in Bayreuth, I was rehearsing on stage with the entire stage design already complete. I’ve never seen that before in my life. Acoustically, the stage is amazing as well: the further back you stand and sing on that stage the better your voice reverberates.
What about the proverbial legend that is Bayreuth? What does this place mean to you?
This place is a dream come true for a performer of Wagner’s works. When you run into other Wagner performers at the lunch canteen it feels like being part of a Wagner ensemble or conference. You really feel like you’re where you belong. I hope I will still get to have many performances here.
You just highlighted the stage design. It’s predominantly kept in hues of blue. The designer is Neo Rauch. Do you think he chose those colors just for aesthetic purposes or do you think there’s more to it?
There seems to be this compulsion in Germany to try to interpret Wagner. We don’t need any of that. The concert performances are proof enough for that. People want to enjoy the music and not be distracted by anything. The only aspects of narrative that matter are those that are written in the score. Personally, I would never have come up with the idea of building a predominantly blue stage design around “Lohengrin” but it works. Neo managed to find the right color, which is wonderful.
What is it like to work with director Yuval Sharon?
First of all, I’m not a fan of political productions of Wagner’s opera. I find it rather limiting to reduce Wagner and all his imagination to just one aspect of his narrative, which certainly wasn’t the most important to him. “Lohengrin”, “Parsifal” or “The Ring of the Nibelung” are all imaginary worlds.
This young American director has understood just that and is courageous enough to present the opera for what it is. I’m finding that wherever you go around the world, we’re encountering the same gigantic problem with theater director. These directors are often trying too hard to come up with something extraordinary, something that’s scandalous or political. The audience doesn’t need that.
There’s another man from Poland making his debut in Bayreuth alongside you: Piotr Beczala, who is playing the role of Lohengrin. This is almost turning into a Polish home match.
We’re not the first Poles who have come here. Back in 1901, Cosima Wagner already invited a Polish singer to play the role of Brünnhilde. But Piotr is the first Polish tenor, and I the first Polish baritone, to have a debut at Bayreuth. However, your national background no longer plays a role. Piotr Beczala sings all the Italian and French parts out there as well, not to mention his singing in Russian and Czech.
Lohengrin is the only Wagner role he plays, which is why we haven’t had much of a chance to get to know each other. At this point, I am the only Pole who decidedly focuses on performing German parts. I just love this music by Wagner and Strauss and I want to get to understand it more and improve. This is the love of my life.
Interview: Hans Christoph von Bock.