A long time ago, when I was in High School, I read the book, Profiles in Courage by President John F. Kennedy. The book profiled the acts of courage displayed by eight US Senators in doing “what was right” rather than what was expedient or popular. In 1957 the book received the Pulizer Prize for biography.
Profiled were Senators John Quincy Adams, a Senator (1803–1808), Daniel Webster, also from Massachusetts, for speaking in favor of the Compromise of 1850, Thomas Hart Benton, from Missouri, for staying in the Democratic Party despite his opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories, Sam Houston, from Texas, for speaking against the Kansas–Nebraska Act and for opposing Texas’ secession from the Union, for which he was deposed from the office of Governor, among others.
Courage is an act of bravery and often self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming physical or social opposition (my definition) and today seems to be found less and less in our Senators and elected officials. The easy or popular route seems to have replaced the courageous or “right thing to do”.
But this blog is not about Senators, public officials, soldiers or professional athletes displaying courage, but about an opera singer. Let me introduce you to Pavol Breslik, about whom one of the top opera magazines writes:
“… With an imposing appetite for risk, a heroically intensified timbre and elegantly Bel Canto style voice . . ., particularly impressive!”
The “overnight success” of the tenor Pavol Breslik began in 2005, when he was chosen the “Most Promising Singer of the Year” in a critics’ survey in the magazine “Opernwelt”. But as we all should suspect, there is no such thing as “overnight success”, except maybe in the plastic, manufactured pop world of X-Factor!
Here’s the back story of Pavol Breslik.
Born in 1979 in a very small town in what was then Soviet dominated Czechoslavakia, he grew up in a modest household (his father was a policeman and his mother a seamstress) the oldest of 4 boys. Through determination and persistence, he completed his studies at the Conservatory in Bratislava and in 2000 he won the first prize at the Antonín-Dvořák Competition in the Czech Republic.
For aspiring musicians and singers, there was very little opportunity for expansion or a fulfilling career in Slovakia, still digging its way out from under decades of former Soviet bureaucracy and corruption. At the urging of a opera professor from France he met at one of the competitions in Slovakia, Pavol, age 19, left home with only 20 Euros in his pocket to seek his future in Marseilles. He says it was the most frightening thing he had ever done. He spoke no French, had literally no money, and no job. But he had a dream, a passion, and, above all, courage.
Somehow, he continued his education at the Opera Studio CNIPAL in Marseilles, and completed master classes with Yvonne Minton, Mady Mesplé, Mirella Freni and William Matteuzzi. It was then that he started to become recognized by those in the opera world for his abilities and his courageous performances. He became a professional opera singer at age 23, one of the youngest ever, and is currently booked with work until 2017!
A few days ago my wife and daughter attended the Royal Opera House performance of Eugene Onegin, the tragic opera by Tchaikovsky based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin. At a special dinner after the performance, my wife was fortunate enough to sit next to Pavol Breslik, who performed the role of Lensky. It was over dinner that the story of Pavol’s courage and determination was revealed.
When he was 13, he went to the library and picked out a 33 1/3 vinyl record, the cover being one his favourite rock bands, but when he opened it up at home, it contained an opera recording of Tosca, not his rock band idols. When he listened to it he was amazed, and hooked. He started singing all the songs . . . and his love of opera was born. In a household with no musical heritage, his parents and siblings thought he was insane – no one could make a living like that.
To me, courage is a rare commodity in our overly conformist and safety oriented world and I just felt compelled to share one young man’s personal courage to pursue a dream, perhaps as an example, that personal acts of courage are possible, no matter what the underlying circumstances.
Below is a short video of Pavol Breslik singing an aria, ” Una furtiva lagrima “, by Donizetti. I think you will enjoy his voice and his passion.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress