Slipped disc prompts top baritone, 47, to end career

Slipped disc prompts top baritone, 47, to end career


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2020

The outstanding Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień has called an end to his career after months of cancellations.

Kwiecień, 47, tells Polish media: ‘I underwent my first spine surgery in New York. I was taken straight from the Met stage during a performance of “Don Giovanni” with a slipped disc. A year later, on the stage at Covent Garden during “Don Carlos” I had a recurrence. An implant had to be inserted. Now there are other problems. My stage activity would be very limited, and I never liked to allow myself to be very limited.’

Kwiecień has accepted a post as artistic director of  Wrocław Opera for 2020/21, a fairly small company. ‘I have a lot to say about opera,’ he says. ‘I have sufficient background and experience from the greatest opera houses in the world. I have a huge number of wonderful friends, singers, directors and conductors, whom I will be delighted to invite to Wrocław.’





  • Eden Elieff says:

    Terrible news. He had a charisma onstage that few have, to match his great voice. I feared this after so many cancellations. A sad day.

  • Ernest says:

    Such a pity! Even if performing on stage is no longer possible, perhaps recordings can continue to be made?

  • C Rogers says:

    MK was a very fine baritone. I particularly remember his Don G at Covent Garden. What a shame if this is the end. Couldn’t more be done medically? However, there’s probably know one knows his body better than him. Good fortune in the new role.

  • Roberto says:

    So sad. What a year…

  • justice and says:

    great singer, great guy. your headline – like often – is not really appropriate .

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    This is very sad as he is such a fine baritone with a great stage presence. I hope he’ll be able to continue to sing even if not in productions and that he’ll enjoy still being involved in opera.

  • Anon says:

    Why is the site called that anyway?

  • Schoenberglover says:

    This is very sad. He was a fantastic Don Giovanni at Covent Garden in 2014 & I’ve heard other great performances from him on various livestreams. Best of luck to him in his new venture.

  • Dalledu Alletre says:

    My God, Norman, here is a fine singer-actor stopped in his prime, and all you can do is pun.

    Congrats on the new job, MK!

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    A sad loss to the Lyric stage. However, sometimes a little more sympathy and empathy from SD would not go amiss in what must have been and remains a difficult time for him. I have fond memories of his performances and hope that his future in Wroclaw is as rearding for him and his Company as his past has been for many who have been fortunate to share it with him from our side of the footlights.

  • John Richmond says:

    The majority of people I know who have endured back surgery have never had their medical problems truly solved by such surgery. There always seem to be ongoing issues. So, indeed, if the man is in tune (so to speak) with his body, then probably he knows what is best. I have enjoyed his art, and may that art continue in other areas of musical life.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Wroclaw Opera may be “a fairly small company”, but I saw a delightful Traviata there last November. It’s a lovely opera house, apparently well-equipped, and I was delighted to make the detour to get there. With MK as Artistic Director, I shall be keen to revisit.

  • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

    Sorry to hear this. Best wishes to Kwiecen for the future,

  • MarieTherese says:

    He will be missed…

  • Ted says:

    I’m SO SORRY!! I love this guy. He’s a tremendous baritone and artist and so relatively young! We should have been able to enjoy his increasingly great performances for many more years. This is a truly great loss to the opera world. One can only wish him the best of luck in his new career.

  • Rob Balde says:

    bad news for opera lovers all over the world, but fortunately he has a chance to use his talent and experience in Poland. Good luck with your career there and all the best wishes for your health!

  • perhaps. says:

    Mr Kwiecień has made lemonade! I pray it continues the sweetest for him, and for us as we do not lose his artistry. Spinal trauma and afflictions are terrible. I know!
    May you grow, and your muse never be distracted.

  • James Weiss says:

    Very sorry to hear this. He was always a dynamic performer onstage and, luckily, we have many filmed performances to witness to that. Wishing him great good luck in his next career. Mazel tov!

  • Don Ciccio says:

    Terrible news, needles to say.

    But, and this is just a question: while he can’t go on stage due to his back problem, can’t he at least continue to sing lied and concert repertoire? Even if his travel will necessarily be limited, maybe this can be a way for him to continue to delight us with his voice.

    Because, as he mentioned, he still has a lot to say…

    • Bruce says:

      Here’s hoping…

    • Sam says:

      I am only making an educated guess – as a former singer – but the back problems probably prevent the breath engagement necessary for producing his sound. A debilitating back problem just stops you dead in your tracks. Breathing low is a killer. That doesn’t change, singing lied. The breath engagement is exactly the same. It is a popular misconception that Lied singing is Opera Singing “light”.

      • Don Ciccio says:

        Never meant that Lied singing is Opera Singing “light”. Not being a singer, I was thinking that perhaps his problems may prevent him from acting and moving on stage but not as much during a recital. What you said, however, makes sense.

  • Bandersnatch says:

    Sorry to here this sad news as he has a fine voice

  • Tiredofitall says:

    Needless to say, Mariusz will be greatly missed and leaves the memories of many wonderful performances. His resilience speaks volumes for his character.

    For me, how great to see a MUSICIAN as an artistic director of an opera house. Not a stage director from Broadway, not a self-appointed “artistic director” (yes, Gelb), but a person who knows about music, the stage, and voice.

    Our loss is also our gain. Best of luck to you, Mariusz!

  • Karl says:

    I have read that it’s better to try months of physical therapy first before resorting to spine surgery. In the United States about 80,000 spine surgeries fail every year.

    • Dave says:

      Karl, doing physical therapy is often like placing a band-aid on an open wound. Spine surgeries are often a crap-shoot. You think that having a fusion and a rod placed in your back will fix the situation. However it is usually temporary. All it does is break down the spine further. This is coming from a person who has had five spinal surgeries thus far.

      • Karl says:

        Many people recover from disc problems with PT. My father had a bad one in his neck and was in a lot of pain for 6 months but it got better. I know someone who had fusion surgery for it and about a year later he had another bad disc in his neck.

    • Bruce says:

      Hopefully he, or one of his doctors, thought of that. At my hospital, the ortho surgeons mostly recommend PT before surgery — in hopes of either taking away the need for surgery, or postponing the need for it; and in any case, getting the patient into somewhat better condition before surgery. (Nothing like trying to rehab a patient who hasn’t gotten out of his recliner in 6 months and is now shocked that we want him to get up and walk)

  • Eulalia Johnson says:

    When I first heard MK in, I believe, 2004 at a dress rehearsal of “L’Italiana in Algeri” at the Met, I was gobsmacked by the beauty of his voice. It was like a luminous, round mahogany beam. I had never heard anything quite like it before. And his Silvio was beautifully sung, vulnerable and touching. Ave!

  • ramon says:

    love mariusz’ stage presence and voice. i myself think his onegin is the definitive one, and i wish him every good thing in his new career. i am glad to also read the many supportive and positive posts here (a rare thing on this blog!), none of which have a bad thing to say about him! by the way, i have never heard of Wroclaw (and Poland was not on my travel list), but I fully intend to go there and support him once the borders are open again!

    • Diane Valerie says:

      I loved him as Onegin too. Such a fine singing actor which was very much in evidence during the “rejection” scene in the Met. production, where he is casually eating an apple and twirling a chair, toying with Tatiana’s feelings because he can. His stage presence will be greatly missed and I wish him all the best in his future career. Wroclaw is a fine city; you should definitely visit.

  • papageno says:

    blame it on opera directors who can’t read music but treats singers like they’re acrobats in a circus.

    • Yes Addison says:

      Franco Zeffirelli? (New York Times, 24 October 2011: “Mr. Kwiecien described the accident and his recovery in his first interview since the injury occurred, speaking last week during a physical therapy session and later over coffee. He disclosed that he had first hurt the disc lifting a colleague during a performance of Puccini’s ‘Bohème’ on the Met’s June tour to Japan and was already in pain.”)

      I’m no fan of Zeffirelli’s work in opera (the later the worse), and maybe some stage business designed with Richard Stillwell and tiny Renata Scotto in mind shouldn’t be carried over to every baritone/soprano combination cast in that show, but I don’t blame him for the injury. Unfortunately, these things happen. People get serious back injuries even from activities like moving furniture in their homes.

      As for the Don Giovanni, Grandage’s production for the Met is not good at all, but it’s not especially hazardous or athletically demanding. Poor Kwiecien just went into it at risk. In the dress rehearsal, when he lunged at the Commendatore in the sword fight (a scene without which it would be hard to do a traditional Don Giovanni), he had disabling pain and had to miss the opening night. Mattei took over.

  • Cdc says:

    This site making a stupid pun out of a devastating medical condition which prematurely arrested a brilliant career at its prime is abhorrent. Possibly the year’s most distasteful editorial touch.

  • Mark says:

    That would be pure malarkey. We, in the biz, could easily hear his singing, his technique, was unrefined and incomplete. In private, we would say “this guy is not going to last singing that way.” And we, in the biz, know the number one rule is to never EVER talk about vocal troubles. He had them and now creates a story (which *IS* probably related to some version of the truth) to justify his departure. PR, people. There is never any reason to trust a press statement from a singer. Ever.

    • Sam says:

      Why not leave him the dignity to bow out with the explanation he gave? Why be so nasty as to add this layer to his difficult, personal situation? He was a singer who gave it his all, yes, and maybe his all resulted in problems to some part of his vocal system. After all, with a singer the entire body is part of the vocal system. It can be a vocal chord issue, or a back issue, or – in the case of the great Ben Luxon – an overnight hearing issue. Bodies, and minds, are unreliable and unpredictable. In my case, a stage fright issue stopped my career dead at 36. It is immaterial the cause. He is courageously admitting to himself and to his public that he can’t deliver anymore. For whatever reason! That is a huge truth to face, and I can promise you he will have agonised over it. The last thing he needs is someone like you to cast aspersions on his artistry as he walks away. He did some wonderful things on the stage, to the very limits of physical and emotional commitment, and will bring that experience to the next phase. Take your hat off to that, at least, and let him start the next chapter of his life with peace of mind and the knowledge of a job very well done.

    • April says:

      Who, “we”? He sounded fine as Onegin, DG, Almaviva (very funny Almaviva) live at Bayerische Staatsoper, over the years. And that was never from expensive seats, but somewhere in the middle or the back of the house.

    • Yes Addison says:

      As he indicates no plans to sing in the future and is moving into management now, I don’t see why he would need to mislead in order to make people think his voice were still intact if it weren’t.

      His history of back problems is well documented over a period of nearly a decade, since 2011. He’s talked about it in interviews several times. That would be a very long game.

      Now, on the separate issue of vocal matters, he did drive his lyric baritone very hard. His role choices were generally right for him, minus perhaps Escamillo (which he quickly dropped), but he always sounded to be trying to get everything there was to get out of that voice and a little more. And maybe “Now there are other problems” includes vocal ones, and this is why there’s nothing about still giving recitals or concerts. But I think he’s being honest about his main setback.

      I wish him the best. He was a charming, all-in overall performer who had a fine career, and he’ll be missed.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      If inadequate vocal technique were a disqualifier for a long (not to mention busy) career, there is a loooooong list. Some singers just hang in there with looks, presence, and interpretive skills. Lucky for them that a good number of artistic directors know little about the voice.

    • Perhaps, says:

      Mark, I am sad you feel this way! For whatever reason this man has stopped singing, he gave pleasure to many! Can you not be a little humble and be grateful that it is not you? None of us knows what might befall one!

  • papageno says:

    Pardon the OT, but What ever happened to the great Aprile Millo?

  • Evan Bowers says:

    I’ve sung there. A lovely theater and town. Good luck to him.

  • dd says:

    re: ‘a devastating medical condition’  
    Yes…according to medical mafia,cut&slice&drugs is the Only way to go …
    & NO… Chiropractors, Rolfers [structural integration] &Osteopathic doctors who perform manipulation will tell you the body can&will heal itself with their re-alignment protocols.[ viz.,  ]   

    Along with this,  a detox fasting diet [sorry,no dairy, meat]
    herbs [yes,that includes CBD oil], essential oils,
     especially TraditionalChineseMedicine,
    Homeopathy & supplements
     could *easily*  heal Kwiecień, given his age&no major impact traumae.  

    As someone who has been subjected to a dozen m/bike
     [4 of which were being hit by cars at speed] 
     & six in-car mishaps, roof & extension ladder falls
    …40 yrs ago to the present…
    the spine is ok because of adhering to all of the above healing measures!

    Not once did it occur this ret.mechanic/pathetic violinist to take OTC or prescription drugs, nor to get the knees amputated, aka, TKA [total knee replacement] nor cervical & spinal fusion . 

    As previous sage Posters have commented,
     it’s like opening a can of worms.’s Dr Bergman’s superb tutorial [ffwd to 2:30]
    Low Back Pain And The Pelvis 2020
    Dr. John Bergman D.C.

     Witness Maestro James Levine’s & Jessye Norman’s sad &rapid decline .
      If only they hadn’t been bullied 
    into resorting to the knife.

    We have the Power to heal…but it takes determination & discipline…easy peasy !

  • joan-marie says:

    I find this baritone just marvelous. l am going to pray and trust God for a true deep healing for M’s back, and that with p.t.!and strength he might return to sing many more years — but with protective respectful stagings and inzenierungen ..
    Bravo Mariusz !!❤️