Opera in three acts in the original Polish
Choreography and Movement Stylist| Jarosław Staniek
Edek | Piotr Nowacki
Eugeniusz | Piotr Pieron
Eleonora | Anna Mikołajczyk
Eugenia | Marzanna Rudnicka
Stomil | Tomasz Rak / Piotr Płuska
Ala | Aleksandra Żakiewicz
Chorus Master | Krzysztof Kusiel-Moroz
In the beginning was the Word
The world premiere of Michał Dobrzyński’s opera Tango based on the drama by Sławomir Mrożek at the Warsaw Chamber Opera.
An operatic libretto based on a poetic work, a drama, an ancient myth, a biblical parable… The history of art, in particular operas, proves that at the dawn of most of the works, overtures, arias, ensembles, choirs, there were human joys and tragedies, feelings and emotions poured into paper in the form of a stanza, verse, paragraph. The success of the opera adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s Operetta, staged at the Warsaw Chamber Opera proves that translating the classics of Polish drama into the language of opera can be crowned with excellent reviews of critics and enthusiasm of music lovers. And that rarely goes hand in hand!
One of the most outstanding dramas of post-war Poland is Sławomir Mrożek’s Tango. Thencanon of our literature inscribed in a theatrical poster, as the King Sigismund’s Column in the landscape of Castle Square. It is worth noting that in its ambiguity and timelessness, the work seems to be a perfect foundation for experimenting with form and convention; to create an opera, that is based on it. In order for the famous drama written into bars, arias, ensembles, and finally framed – into acts, to be maintained at the artistic level imposed by the original creator, a visionary’s hand is required. His imagination, technique, comprehensive approach to the work, finding the melody and rhythm in the text. The fact that Michał Dobrzyński undertook this difficult task from the compositional point of view is a guarantee of quality. It is this composer, one of the most outstanding composers of the young generation, who masterfully translated the aforementioned Gombrowicz’s Operetta into the language of contemporary opera.
The artistic success was confirmed by the spectacle’s invitation to the festival of chamber operas in Vienna, from where it was broadcast by ARTE television. Opera, as an art, offers an excellent opportunity to show the ambiguity of the literary original. In addition to the typical means of expression, there is the value of music – the built up tension, conflict. This goes hand in hand with the ambiguity and multidimensionality of Mrożek’s work. Opera, as a stage form, has the magic of understatement, the music itself can be read on as many ways as it has listeners.
The work is not made in the desert
Interview with MICHAŁ DOBRZYŃSKI, composer, author of the libretto for “Tango”.
Your cooperation with the Warsaw Chamber Opera resulted in the second work based on the classic of Polish drama. After the success of Witold Gombrowicz’s “Operetta” now it’s turn for “Tango” by Sławomir Mrożek. Is translating of drama into opera becomes your specialty?
MICHAŁ DOBRZYŃSKI: In particular, I am inspired to compose music to a carefully selected text. On the one hand, it limits me in a certain way, but on the other hand – it releases the creative energy of another kind. It stimulates the imagination, perhaps even more than the visual arts, because the image, shape, full context of the read word arises entirely in my imagination, gradually. Finding in the text elements that later are subordinated to the autonomous musical idea, creating, in a way, anew animated, characters and situations concretized by the music, is not only the creation itself or simply the composing of music. It’s a wide-ranging, so to speak, search in many areas of the imagination. Although, I cannot really answer the question of whether translating drama into opera is my specialty, I do not deny that this kind of creativity gives me a special intellectual satisfaction. I have always had a passion for solving a variety of puzzles, and this is a specific creative “task” to solve.
What is the main difficulty in adapting such refined and remarkable works for operatic purposes?
It’s exactly what I said before. To precise it: both Gombrowicz and Mrożek tell us about the world in which we live in, about human nature and history. However, this is not a simple, unambiguous message. That is why no synopsis can give us an idea of what is contained in there. The works of Gombrowicz and Mrożek are in some way palimpsestic, referring to different conventions, but have their own language and a characteristic way of speaking about reality, that’s the feature reserved only for the most brilliant authors. So the real difficulty is the right choice that on the one hand exposes something, but on the other hand deprives the original text of something. It is important for me to try to find my own way, my own language and my form, which, as if in surrealism, is as parallel as possible: i.e. identical and autonomous at the same time to the idea around which the author builds the whole text. I’m not interested in simple clues in the interpretation of the text.
What is the strength, atemporality and universality of Sławomir Mrożek’s work, that makes it an attractive base for artistic activities?
I think this is a question for the literature researchers. I can only say what inspired me, especially in the musical sense. And in my opinion, it is the excellent dramaturgic concept of the work, the legibility of the characters and the situations, the social contexts contained in the drama and, in my opinion, the astonishing topicality of the work. Mostly, I have in mind the character of Edek, through whom Mrożek shows the consequences of the resignation from dialogue (also the social one), the terrifying victory of the intellectual emptiness, the resignation of the values which lead, directly speaking, to “savagery” of man. The question of what world we want to live in, what values are and what do they mean to us is always up to date. It is also a question about what freedom means for us and where its boundaries go, and for that questions Mrożek does not give a clear answer.
It is said that poetry is “something” that escapes in translation. According to you, does “Tango”, in spite of its musical connotation in the title, which at the same time is a synonym of dance that was called for many decades as promiscuous, have a certain rhythm or chant, naturally placing verses into the stave of score?
Yes and no. Tango in the title is not included in the obvious way. Looking back from my composer’s perspective, the key thing was the proper “playing” of the famous tango.. As in the “Operetta’s case I could not simply follow Gombrowicz’s directions, which suggested simple, old Viennese-style melodies, so as in Mrożek’s case the final “La cumparsita” was from the beginning only a creative pretext for me, downright provocative to find my own key to what it is and what is the meaning of tango in Mrożek’s “Tango”. And how much, in the musical sense, of the tango is included in “Tango”? That’s the question I have already answered by composing music, and I leave it to your interpretation.
An elaborated drum section with almost a solo part of a vibraphone, celesta, a virtuoso treated accordion … You use quite non-clichéd, as for an opera, plethora of instruments.
There is no such thing as clichéd or non-clichéd range of instruments. Can we say that someone who – let’s say – take on the genre of string quartet, present for more than three centuries in the history of music, is an academician? What matters is the work, and each element of it should be an inherent part of the whole, impossible to remove without some “lost” of the leading idea of the work.
Can we talk about stylistic inspirations in other composers’ music when creating an opera like this one?
You can always talk about musical inspirations. But inspiration is one thing, and imitation is another thing, and that cannot be tolerated in real art. But you cannot forget that the work is not made in the desert, and whether we like it or not, it almost always fits into a tradition, especially when we talk about opera.
Interview: Piotr Iwicki
Libretto found under the lantern
„Tango” by Sławomir Mrożek is a sad comedy about young man who has lost any faith and has begun searching for the meaning of life. It is worth noting the similarity of this work to “Hamlet”: in both cases the characters struggle with comparable issues: mother’s betrayal, rebel against hypocrisy of family life, the pursuit of power and the painful consequences when it comes to reality check for characters who are sensitive to the lack of justice. These are striking similarities. Power as a topic is tragic and comic at the same time, power, which is surprisingly the true motive and cause, is a spring that changes everything. It is no wonder then, that “Tango”, as one of the plays based on a strong archetypal structure, is still present at the world stages. The potential of this text is enormous, and its musicality is inspirational. I think the idea of creating a Polish opera on the basis of “Tango” deserves recognition. Here we have a clever, contrary literary work and thoughts contained in words, which even prompts sounds, they ask to hear them. Sounds organically related to the Polish language, with the melody contained in the text. Michał Dobrzański heard it. We all – along with the other co-creators of this event – tried to read the intentions of the two authors as thoroughly as possible, and we surprisingly found in the music another fun, original and faithful to Mrożek’s message harmony. I knew Sławomir Mrożek personally, I was the director of the Cracow premiere of “Love in the Crimea”. Usually, he was very restrained in expressing his opinions and emotions, so he probably would not be enthusiastic about the idea of making the opera basing on his “Tango”. I hope that after watching and hearing our performance he would not feel betrayed and he would articulate an equivalent of the sentence “Maybe so”, “So be it”, “Fair enough” or “Let it be”.
Maciej Wojtyszko, director