The Breakout Star of the Met Opera’s ‘Ring’
It can be difficult to tell the good guys from the bad in “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” Wagner’s four-opera saga of greed and mistakes.
It’s even more difficult in the Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of the “Ring,” in which the typically villainous Alberich — the dwarfish Nibelung of the title — is portrayed with nobility and nuance by Tomasz Konieczny, in a stunning company debut.
In “Das Rheingold,” the first of the “Ring” operas, Mr. Konieczny stood out among the large cast not only for his unusually rich characterization, but also for his voice: a sonorous bass, filling the Met with ease and delivered with crystalline articulation. His character returns on Saturday in “Siegfried.”
Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said in an interview that he was “bowled over” by Mr. Konieczny’s performance — so much so that Mr. Gelb immediately invited him to star in Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer” when the opera is revived in a future season after a new production has its premiere next March.
The Met could feasibly cast Mr. Konieczny in almost any Wagner opera; he has sung in all the composer’s major works except “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.” Last summer, he was especially chilling as Telramund in “Lohengrin” at the Bayreuth Festival; he is scheduled to return there in July.
“Wagner is really my life,” Mr. Konieczny said in his dressing room recently after a rehearsal of “Siegfried.” “And I’m still learning. His music is work for life.”
Mr. Konieczny, 47, grew up in Poland wanting to be a director; he was a child impresario, putting on humble shows with friends. But he ended up studying acting, appearing in some films but preferring theater. On the side, Mr. Konieczny started taking singing lessons and eventually moved to Dresden, Germany, to attend its Hochschule für Musik. After some success there and in Leipzig, he decided to commit to opera full time.
Then came Mr. Konieczny’s first Wagner assignment: the “Ring.” It was in Ireland, he recalled, and he sang the giant Fasolt and Gunther, a human. The conductor was a Russian man who didn’t understand German, but everything came together after three-a-day rehearsals for three weeks.
“I was in love with Wagner, definitively,” Mr. Konieczny said. “I saw what the text was capable of, how you could tell if a character was lying if what he said didn’t match the music. And every time I hear or sing it now, I can still see a new story.”
He has since graduated to higher-profile “Ring” roles, including Alberich and Wotan in nearly equal measure. He has developed close relationships with conductors including Adam Fischer, Franz Welser-Möst and Christian Thielemann, who, after working with Mr. Konieczny in Dresden, invited him to make his Bayreuth debut in last summer’s “Lohengrin.”
During the interview in his dressing room, still in costume and switching back and forth between English and German, he explained what went into his performance as Alberich. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How did you arrive at your Alberich?
The most important thing for me as an actor is to see his perspective, and the possibility to change. It’s very difficult to sing parts like Telramund, because there’s not much possibility to change between the beginning and the end. But Alberich, he is completely different at the beginning.
He is ambitious; he would like to have another woman, but not from his race. Wotan wants more, too — more than other gods. Both of them want more than they can have. I’m also very ambitious, so I can understand.
Alberich is not a bad guy. But in “Das Rheingold,” there is a situation that makes it impossible to be good. The Rhinemaidens make fun of him, laugh at him. He only wants better love, but he ends up taking the gold because of revenge, because he is pushed to the end of his emotional possibilities. His decision to choose power is a reaction, because he is made crazy.
Then how does he change again?
When he loses the ring. You have the possibility to make Alberich only the bad guy. Or you can play him as sympathetic, someone who only wants to survive the situation when he is caught. I think it is most important to make people feel with Alberich at this moment. He is suffering. You have to be careful not to make Alberich stupid. It’s never written that he’s a dolt. He is emotional; you know that this picture of Wotan catching him is so strong, he cannot ever forget it. He’s thinking of it still in “Siegfried.”
Who, do you think, is the villain: Wotan or Alberich?
Wotan. He is incredibly sympathetic, but he is like a mafioso. Alberich never lies. But Wotan is always lying, always manipulating. But of powerful people in the world today, who is not lying?
Which role do you prefer to sing?
Wotan is more interesting, and much easier to sing. Alberich is the way to contemporary music, and it’s not always good for the voice.
The only big Wagner opera left for you is “Meistersinger.” Will you make your debut as Hans Sachs anytime soon?
At the moment we have a really good Hans Sachs, Michael Volle [who is singing Wotan in the Met’s “Ring”]. Three times I’ve had proposals for “Meistersinger,” and I would like it very much. It’s a really fantastic part; he’s like Wotan, though never a bad guy. But I have time.