Discovering Adam Plachetka
VIENNA -- In May 2006, I was assigned to review a restoration of an historic 1969 production of "Don Giovanni" in the Stavovské divadlo, the middle-sized of the three houses run by Prague’s National Theater and the site where Mozart conducted the opera’s 1787 world premiere.
Cast with company ensemble members, the voices ranged from adequate to, in the case of Masetto, astounding. I didn’t recognize the name of Adam Plachetka. Yet here was this young bass-baritone in the opera’s least significant role, sweeping his veteran colleagues aside with his strong stage presence, and even more so, a voice technically and substantively mature beyond its years. This was one of those moments of discovery we all live for: after Masetto’s first aria, I found myself thinking, "Did I just hear what I think I heard?" The rest of the performance confirmed that I had.
I phoned the theater’s press office for details. "He turned 21 last week," offered the somewhat blasé press rep. Future plans were being discussed, but there was nothing official.
Several months later, I recognized Plachetka in the audience of a premiere at the Stavovské divadlo. I introduced myself and the strapping, six-foot four-and-a-half-inch young man expressed his excitement at being cast in two new productions: Publio in "La clemenza di Tito" and Jake Wallace, the itinerate balladeer in Puccini’s "La fanciulla del West."
I noticed our conversation had been observed by Jirí Herman, the newly appointed 31-year-old Intendant of the National Theatre’s opera division, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. "You have the makings of a great Don Giovanni there, in time" I opined. "Yes," said Herman, "We are thinking about that for him in a couple of seasons."
Meanwhile, for the 2008-2009 season, Herman is more than filling Plachetka’s plate: his first National Theater Don Giovanni came in November 2008 and continues throughout the season, along with Figaro and another Mozart factotum, "Nardo", in a new production of "La finta giardiniera," Argante in a new production of Handel’s "Rinaldo," and reprises of Publio and Masetto.
Even Cesare Siepi waited until 29 for his first Giovanni, and Ezio Pinza till his early 30s. When I asked Plachetka if he thought he might be rushing things a bit, he made a startling revelation: this would be his fourth production as Don Giovanni! He first sang it at age 21 at the Znojmo Festival, where actress Jana Janeková, serving as director, guided him through the role over two intense months. Gaining confidence through that experience, Plachetka subsequently undertook the role in Brno and in Prague at Opera Mozart. He also chided me, "Luigi Bassi was 21 when he sang the first Don Giovanni!"
A Prague native, Plachetka joined a children’s choir at eight and successfully juggled singing with ice hockey, volleyball, basketball, soccer and skiing. By the time he entered university, he had fallen so completely in love with opera that he took a job as an usher at the National Theater to absorb as much music as possible. He rarely listens to pop or rock music: "I don’t hate it, but I like to listen to classical music more because I live in this environment and it is the thing I love the most." His current deities are George London, Samuel Ramey, and Falk Struckmann.
On February 20, he makes his debut with Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper in Cavalli’s "La calisto," then returns to Prague for the rest of the season through June. This summer will mark his third at the Salzburger Festspiele, where he will sing Antonio in "Le nozze di Figaro" (he debuted there in 2007 in "Benvenuto Cellini," and sang in "Rusalka" in 2008).
September 2010 marks the biggest step in Plachetka’s career to date: at age 25, he will join the ensemble of the Wiener Staatsoper. "I think I will have time to develop in Vienna, because I expect to do some smaller parts there and I will have more time to study and listen to the masters."
Plachetka remains remarkably flexible about his future: "Either the voice goes a bit lower and I could sing some higher bass roles – I dream of the four villains in ‘Les contes d’Hoffmann!’ – or it will be stronger in the higher end and I will be more of a dramatic baritone: I would love to sing Scarpia, Amonasro or the Holländer. But I am happy with the repertory I am singing now, and if I have to sing Mozart for 20 more years, that’s just fine. As for Wagner, I would love to sing it sometime, but that is a big question for the future. Hopefully in 15 years, we shall see."
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