Blachut and Briscein

Opus Osm

Aleš Briscein and Lenka Máčiková in a dramatic moment during their Prague Spring recital May 23

Maybe you couldn’t be in Czechoslovakia from 1913-1985. But it’s not too late to meet tenor Beno Blachut who lived then, and whose legacy continues today.

Beno Blachut, unlike many legendary Czechs in classical music, was not born into a musical family; he was born into a family of miners, in 1913′s Vítkovice (Olomouc). He was destined to break the family tradition. Singing in his local church gave him a start in music; legend has it that at one time learned to play the piano on a paper keyboard, and neighbors took up a collection to send him to Prague, where he studied music at the Prague Conservatory.

tenor Beno Blachut

Beno Blachut

He returned home to Olomouc as a tenor in the city’s opera company. Eventually he was accepted at Prague’s National Theatre, and became a leading star during one of the golden eras of Czech cultural life. He sang and defined all the major roles in the classics of Czech opera, and for listeners on the other side of the Iron Curtain, established his international reputation with recordings.

The centenary of Beno Blachut’s life was marked with a Prague Spring International Music Festival concert May 23. The program notes from that concert describe Blachut’s voice as “a tender-timbred tenor, finely balanced all across its range, supported by robust musical intelligence and manly stage presence.”

Something similar might be said for Aleš Briscein, the contemporary tenor and faithful follower of Blachut’s legacy. In the recital performance he sang arias from several of Blachut’s triumphant roles, in operas by Smetana (The Bartered Bride, Two Widows, The Devil’s Wall), Dvořák (The Devil and Kate), as well as by Tchaikovsky, Donizetti, Verdi, and Wagner.

A Manly – But Human – Stage Presence

Mr Briscein also studied at The Prague Conservatory, becoming a soloist of The State Opera in 1995. Unlike Blachut, Mr Briscein has been able to perform internationally, and today appears with both the Czech National Opera (most recently in The Two Widows – Opus Osm, June 3) and the Opéra National de Paris. Like Blachut, the contemporary tenor has also been involved in recording, a complete set of Pavel Haas’ opera The Charlatan.

Aleš Briscein

Accomplishments aside, it’s Mr Briscein’s stage presence that also contributes to his talent as a tenor. He seems genuinely pleased to present music to an audience, and his duets with guest soprano Lenka Máčiková at the concert were filled with energy, warmth, and humor. In case you find opera perplexing because people “just stand and sing,” try to find a performance with Mr Briscein and/or Mrs Máčiková. They’ll show you there’s a lot more to opera than just the notes.

At the Prague Spring concert, for example, the audience had just returned from the intermission and settled in its seats. Mr Briscein, conductor David Švec, and the Prague Philharmonia were poised for the opening notes of Lensky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The conductor raised his baton; Mr Briscein took a deep breath; and – a mobile phone began to ring somewhere near the stage.

There was a split second when everyone tried to ignore it. But nobody could. Mr Briscein broke into a smile, patting his jacket pocket and shaking his head. Mr Švec looked at him and shrugged. The audience chuckled, and the ringing stopped.

You can’t help but wonder what Mr Blachut would have done with a mobile phone. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: Prague Spring website; Center: Vítkovice-Olomouc city website; Bottom: Aleš Briscein website

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