Sound Bites spotlights up-and-coming singers and conductors in the world of opera.
Sound Bites: Jakub Józef Orliński
The Polish countertenor sings Handel this month in Houston and New York.
by Maria Mazzaro.
Rising star countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński
Photograph by Dario Acosta
JAKUB JÓZEF ORLIŃSKI loves early music; lucky for the Warsaw-born countertenor that his instrument is perfectly crafted for the works of Handel, Purcell and Vivaldi. Despite the sheer beauty and smooth grace of his sound, his career as a singer didn’t begin without obstacles. “In Poland, there’s a group of people who are getting in [to university] and are studying for free—and I didn’t get in. I had to pay for my studies.”
To finance his education, Orliński worked several jobs, including as a model and dancer for commercials; he still travels throughout Europe to compete in breakdance competitions, though it’s not exactly an ideal hobby for a singer. “In breakdancing you have to be really tensed. In singing, you need to have a total control of relaxing muscles. But I was so in love with singing and dancing that I decided, I’m going to just try. And stage directors,” he adds, “love when somebody has special skills.”
Orliński, now twenty-five, has appeared on opera and concert stages in Poland, Germany and the U.S. This month, he sings the alto line in Handel’s Messiah, first with the Houston Symphony and then at Carnegie Hall. At Juilliard, where Orlin´ski is finishing his last year in the graduate diploma program, he has sung Endimione in La Calisto and, in November, the Refugee in Jonathan Dove’s Flight—a rare foray into modern music for the countertenor. In February 2017, he will perform Ottone in Juilliard’s staged and concert versions of Agrippina. “I love Baroque music, because you have to learn how to do everything. You have to learn how to sing really beautiful slow lines, but you also have to have coloratura.”
A first-rate actor, Orliński uses the skills he learned as a young chorister. “In the ensemble, you have to learn how to listen, how to react, and everything you’re doing matters only when the others are doing it also. It’s one of the most useful skills I have—just listening and reacting.”
Orliński is awestruck when he thinks of his grand finals win at the Met National Council Auditions this year. As a young university student, he says, “My dream was just to sing and have the pitch be clear. And then, after a while, I was jumping over my dreams, doing better and better. I still cannot believe I am here.”