Teatr Wielki Opera Narodowa

250 Years of Public Theatre in Poland


   December 2014 marked 250 years since King Stanisław August signed an agreement that was the foundation for launching a public theatre in Poland, in the Operalnia Saska [Saxon Opera House] building. Let us quote Professor Mieczysław Klimowicz from his invaluable book Początki teatru stanisławowskiego [The Beginnings of Stanislavian Theatre]:

   “Upon assuming the throne, Stanisław August had a plan ready for a permanent theatre in Warsaw. With his usual energy and skill, he got down to work as soon as the election parliament approved his election [as king]. The main issue was to prepare an appropriate theatre room and gather funds for the first expenses connected with hiring French and Italian troupes and bringing them to Poland. …

   Already in December 1764, Stanisław August’s theatre plans began to materialize. Karol [Carlo] Tomatis, an Italian adventurer from Vienna recommended by the king’s brother Andrzej Poniatowski, had arrived in Warsaw in the autumn. A friend of Casanova’s, Tomatis was one of those 18th-century fortune-seekers who chased fame and fortune across the countries and capital cities of Europe, making a living gambling, moving from one opportunity to the next. … Tomatis together with Warsaw merchant Kazimierz Czenpiński [Czempiński] undertook to organize theatre performances in Warsaw.

   On 3 December 1764 the two of them signed an agreement with the king in which they pledged to bring in and install a French comedy and an Italian comic opera with ballet in Warsaw. … Soon both entrepreneurs, provided with the necessary authorization and letters of recommendation, set off in search of actors and dancers. Tomatis got busy organizing the Italian comic opera, going first to Vienna and then to Venice, while Kazimierz Czenpiński agreed to bring a French troupe [from Paris]. … Czenpiński and the first wagons carrying the comic troupe arrived in Warsaw on 12 April 1765. … On 5 July 1765 Tomatis appeared in Warsaw with an Italian opera and ballet company of some 30 people”.

   The French comedy performances began at Operalnia Saska as early as 8 May. In July they were joined by the royal ballet brought in by Tomatis. The Italian opera and ballet company gave its first performance on 7 August. Finally, it wasn’t until 19 November that the first premiere by a hastily collected Polish acting company took place, also with the added attraction of two ballets performed by Italian dancers. This was the beginning of the first public theatre in Poland, founded by King Stanisław August.

Pictured: Polish King Stanisław August in coronation robes (portrait by Marcello Bacciarelli, Royal Castle, Warsaw)

17 XII 2014

200th Anniversary of the Birth

   He was the leading figure of Polish romantic ballet, a dancer and ballet school teacher, but above all a ballet master, choreographer, and director of the ballet company of the Warsaw Government Theatres. In the mid-19th century he played a similar role in Warsaw as the father of Danish romantic ballet, August Bournonville, did in Copenhagen.

   He was born on 14 March 1813 in Radom, the son of Jan and Franciszka née Gliniecka. He was enrolled at the Warsaw ballet school at the age of nine. His teachers there were two French dancers: Henri Debray and Maurice Pion. He debuted at the age of 11 in a court- theatre performance at the Theatre in the Orangery in Łazienki Park, and a year later was already a professional dancer of the National Theatre. This means he learned his profession at the theatre, but that was how ballet careers usually began in those days. Aged 20 he already had such extensive experience that he began teaching the ballet school’s youngest pupils.

   He had his greatest successes as a dancer at the Teatr Wielki in 1833-1844. On a scholarship in Paris in 1842, he and his wife Konstancja even danced the mazurka and the krakowiak in the ballet Le Diable Amoureux at the Paris opera. “The young Polish dancers, handsome and vivacious, lent the ballet an extraordinary enthusiasm and an unusual impulse”, wrote the French writer Jules Janin about their performance. Roman Turczynowicz was valued mainly for character roles and dances, though he was also a success in the classical part of James in La Sylphide and the male lead in Filippo Taglioni’s La Gitana, even being the partner of the legendary Marie Taglioni during her guest performances in Warsaw in 1844.

   Soon afterwards, aged just 32, Turczynowicz abandoned his dancing career. At the initiative of Filippo Taglioni, who was the Warsaw ballet’s director in 1843-1853, in 1846 he accepted the duties of ballet stage director at the Teatr Wielki, combining the duties of ballet master, dance teacher, and director’s assistant. The same year saw his debut as a choreographer, the ballet Okrężne pod Kielcami (Harvest Festival Near Kielce) to music by Józef Stefani. After Taglioni’s departure from Warsaw, he was appointed director of the ballet company in 1853. He remained in office until mid-1867 (with a break in the 1856/57 season when he was briefly replaced by another famous Italian ballet master, Carlo Blasis). During all those years the theatre’s management regularly sent him to Paris, and later also to Vienna, to look into new European ballet repertoire which he subsequently staged in Warsaw.

   Maurice Pion had already accomplished the romantic breakthrough at the Warsaw ballet by staging works like La Sylphide according to Filippo Taglioni at the Teatr Wielki (1839). However, after him it was Roman Turczynowicz who reinforced the new aesthetic trend in Warsaw’s ballet repertoire. It was he who designed choreographies for flagship romantic works for the Warsaw stage, modelling them after famous Paris productions. They were, in succession: Le Diable à quatre (1847), Giselle (1848), La Jolie Fille de Gand (1848), Le Diable Boiteux (1849), Catherine ou La Fille de Bandit (1850), La Esmeralda (1851), Le Diable Amoureux (1853), Paquita (1854), Le Corsaire (1857), and Marco Spada ou La Fille de Bandit (1858). Finally, he also staged two Italian ballets from the Viennese repertoire: Carnevals Abenteur in Paris (1859) and Monte Christo (1866).

  Apart from these grand productions he designed original divertissements, including Tańce perskie (Persian Dances, 1849) and Uroczystość róż (The Rose Ceremony, 1852), which continued to be popular for many years, both set to music by Józef Stefani. He also staged the original full-length ballet Dziewice jeziora (Maidens of the Lake) to music by Gabriel Rożniecki (1860). He arranged dance scenes for opera productions. Among other things, he was the first choreographer of the Polish dances in the national operas of Stanisław Moniuszko: Halka (1858), The Countess (1860), and The Haunted Manor (1865). In the course of his long years teaching at the Teatr Wielki’s ballet school, he trained dozens of Polish dancers. In 1867 this distinguished ballet master received a pension from the Warsaw Government Theatres. He lived 15 more years, no longer active professionally but kindly and respectfully remembered by the press at every opportunity. He died in Warsaw on 21 May 1882 and was buried in Powązki Cemetery.

   Unfortunately the Warsaw theatre authorities in the Russian-occupied part of Poland and the subsequent long-term domination of Italian ballet masters at the Teatr Wielki put to waste the achievements of this great Polish choreographer of the Romantic period. All that remains of Roman Turczynowicz’s oeuvre is a memory on the pages of the history of ballet. Nevertheless, the Warsaw Ballet School was named after him in 1979.

(Illustration: Roman Turczynowicz, lithograph by Maksymilian Fajans, ca. 1850)


The world has been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sergei Diaghilev's legendary company, the Ballets Russes, since 2009. Various jubilee projects have been linked to different events from a century ago, such as the first Russian Seasons that Diaghilev organized in Paris with artists from the Mariinsky Theatre from St. Petersburg (1909 and 1910), the founding of the regular ballet company Les Ballets Russes in Monte Carlo (1911), the premieres of The Afternoon of a Faun (1912), The Rite of Spring (1913) - both choreographed by Wacław Niżyński (Vaslav Nijinsky), etc. Celebrating the memory and highlighting the significance of the company's work for the development of ballet art, few people notice that throughout the company's existence (1909-1929) at least half the dancers in Diaghilev's ballet were Polish, starting with the greatest dancer and extraordinary choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky and his sister Bronisława (Bronislava), both of whom studied at the St. Petersburg ballet school, through Stanisław Idzikowski, Leon Wójcikowski, and almost 80 other Polish dancers recruited mainly from among ballet school graduates and the ballet company of our own Teatr Wielki.

   The Polish National Ballet, established at the Teatr Wielki in the spring of 2009 under Krzysztof Pastor's management, was created exactly 100 years after Diaghilev's first Russian Season in Paris. This is just a coincidence, but Vaslav Nijinsky's legend has been with us from the very beginning, together with a desire to preserve him in the national consciousness as a symbol of Polish ballet talent. Though he was a star of Russian ballet and his artistic personality developed in St. Petersburg, we must not forget this great Pole whose work and career unfolded in foreign lands when our nation was stripped of its statehood. This is why it is a matter of honour for us to make the most valuable choreographic output of Vaslav Nijinsky and his sister Bronislava Nijinska a part of the Polish ballet tradition, of course never negating their obvious contribution to Russian ballet theatre.

       The first step in this direction is a production of Vaslav Nijinsky's greatest work: his choreography for Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, a project that was probably the greatest stage achievement of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Rejected by his contemporaries, Nijinsky's choreography was forgotten for many years after the huge scandal accompanying its world premiere in Paris on 29 May 1913. It came back to life in the United States thanks to the reconstruction of the American choreographer Millicent Hodson working with the British art historian Kenneth Archer, which was produced in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet. This was when it turned out that the choreography had been a revolutionary work, far ahead of its time in ballet, and to Nijinsky's fame as a dancer it added the title of one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century. Over the next few years many leading theatres around the world included Millicent Hodson's reconstruction in their repertoires: from the Paris Opera and Milan's La Scala, through the Hamburg Ballet, Finnish National Ballet and Monte Carlo Ballets, to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The time has come for The Rite of Spring choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky to be shown to Polish audiences as well.

   Our plan to celebrate Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring on the 100th anniversary of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes has assumed a grander scale, unprecedented in the history of ballet. We have decided to propose as many as three different choreographies to this composition during a single ballet evening. Next to Nijinsky's version, we will also present the most famous subsequent choreography - Maurice Béjart's from 1959, and one of the most recent ones - Emanuel Gat's from 2004. The Polish National Ballet is thus taking on three different dance styles in this performance, while our audience will receive a unique opportunity to watch three different productions without having to travel to other theatres in Europe. The premiere of The Rite of Spring by the Polish National Ballet took place at the Teatr Wielki on 11 June 2011, followed by performances on 12, 19, and 21 June and in the following season.

Illustrations: Sergei Diaghilev and his legendary dancer, Wacław Niżyński (Vaslav Nijinsky)  

200th anniversary of the birth of Fryderyk Chopin

   In 2010 the whole world celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fryderyk Chopin, Poland’s greatest composer who made an invaluable contribution to the development of music during Romanticism. His output and artistic personality was an inspiration for many other composers and piano virtuosos. It wasn’t just musicians, though. He inspired and still appeals to creative people from all fields, including ballet artists.


Fryderyk Chopin, obraz Eugene'a Delacroix   It would be hard to enumerate the choreographers and dancers who have succumbed to the charm of Chopin’s music. A great many ballets were inspired by the work of this Polish composer. They were created by the likes of Mikhail Fokin: “Chopiniana” (1908; also at our Teatr Wielki, 1908) and the new version called “Les Sylphides” (1909); Anna Pavlova: “Les Feuilles d'automne” (1918); William Dolar: “Constantia” (1944); Jerome Robbins: “The Concert” (1956), “Dances at a Gathering” (1969), “In the Night” (1970), and “Other Dancers” (1976); Frederick Ashton: “A Month in the Country” (1976); John Neumeier: “Lady of the Camellias” (1978); Maurice Béjart: “Variations Don Giovanni” (1979; also at our Teatr Wielki, 1987); Lorca Massine: “Fortepianissimo” (Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera, 1999), and others.


   Polish choreographers also worked with Chopin’s music, to mention Bronislava Nijinska: “Concerto in E Minor” (Polish Ballet, 1937), “Chopin Concerto” (Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1942), and “In Memoriam” (Le Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, 1949); Conrad Drzewiecki: “Five Nocturnes” (Polish Dance Theatre in Poznań, 1976) and a new version called “Nocturnes” (in the same place, 1982); Ewa Wycichowska: “Concerto in F Minor” (Teatr Wielki in Łódź, 1982); Waldemar Wołk-Karaczewski: “Chopin’s Muses” (Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera, 1991); Marek Zajączkowski: “Three Colours – Chopin in Nohant” (Opera Nova in Bydgoszcz, 2006), and Krzysztof Pastor: “Chopin Dances” (Israeli Ballet in Tel Aviv, 2009).


   The Year of Chopin will yield a new great production of the Polish National Ballet. At the initiative of Waldemar Dąbrowski, director of the Teatr Wielki, a ballet will be designed in Warsaw invoking the great Polish Romantic’s life and history. The script is the work of writer Antoni Libera, while the music will include pieces not only by Fryderyk Chopin but also composers who were influenced by his work: Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Sergei Lyapunov, Franz Schubert, and Robert Schumann. The production will be choreographed by Patrice Bart, the French ballet master from the Paris Opera. This looks set to be a truly European choreographic world premiere. The inspiration comes from Warsaw, but the ballet will look at the legend of the great Polish composer from the point of view of Paris with which Chopin had such close ties. Without question, this will be the most important ballet event of the Year of Chopin.

(Picture: Fryderyk Chopin by Eugene Delacroix)

225th anniversary of Polish ballet


   Warsaw’s ballet tradition dates back to the early 17th century, but for over 150 years almost exclusively foreign dancers and ballet masters worked at the Polish royal court and the city’s first public theatres. It wasn’t until 225 years ago, on 1 July 1785 to be precise, that the first Polish ballet company came into being, called His Majesty’s National Dancers.

Fryderyk Chopin by Eugene Delacroix   King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, a great patron of theatre, opera and ballet, took under his wing a group of Polish ballet artists orphaned by their founder. They were the subjects of Antoni Tyzenhauz, the Lithuanian court treasurer who had died in March 1785, leaving his artists to the king in his will. They had previously trained at Count Tyzenhauz’s famous school of the arts, which this Polish nobleman had maintained in the years 1774-1785 at his private estate: first in Grodno, later in Postawy.

   The 30-person group of young dancers arrived in Warsaw in late June 1785. After a few performances at King Stanislaus Augustus’ summer residence in Łazienki, on 15 August 1785 the company appeared for the first time at the public theatre in Krasińskich Square. This was the premiere of François Gabriel Le Doux’s ballet “Hilas and Sylvia” to music by François-Joseph Gossec, based on a pastoral comedy by Rachon de Chabannes. That was the beginning of His Majesty’s National Dancers, the first Polish ballet company in Warsaw.

   Remembering our origins and proud of the 225-year history of Polish ballet in Warsaw, today we look boldly ahead, building the future of our company as the Polish National Ballet. Nevertheless, we will celebrate the latest great anniversary of Polish ballet in 2010 with a jubilee exhibition and a special publication entitled “Od Tancerzy Narodowych J. K. Mości do Polskiego Baletu Narodowego” (“From His Majesty’s National Dancers to the Polish National Ballet”).

(Picture: King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski by Giovanni Lampi)

100th anniversary of the death of Marius Petipa

Marius Petipa, photo 1898   On 14 July 2010, a hundred years have passed since the death of Marius Petipa, widely recognized as the father of classical ballet. This brilliant French ballet master and choreographer, who worked for many years with the imperial ballet in St. Petersburg, left a legacy comprising a huge amount of repertoire. His most valuable ballet works are still staged by the world’s leading ballet companies, continually improved in the revisions and performances of successive generations of choreographers and dancers.


   These productions include the original ballets of Marius Petipa, such as “La Fille du Pharaon”, “Don Quixote”, “La Bayadère”, “The Talisman”, “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Halte de Cavalerie”, “Raymonda”, and “Les Millions d'Arlequin”, but also his choreography (with Lev Ivanov) for “Swan Lake” as well as new versions of earlier Romantic repertoire, to mention “Le Corsaire”, “Paquita”, “Giselle”, “Catarina, ou La Fille du bandit”, “Esmeralda”, or “La Sylphide”. For Pyotr Tchaikovsky, he authored the libretto and choreographic plan for “The Nutcracker”, though due to the ballet master’s illness the world premiere was ultimately staged by his assistant Lev Ivanov, designer of the “white acts” for “Swan Lake”.


   The Polish National Ballet’s standard repertoire includes the best works of Marius Petipa: “La Bayadère” in the unparalleled production by Natalia Makarova, “The Sleeping Beauty” staged here by Yuri Grigorovich, “Swan Lake” produced by Irek Mukhamedov, and “The Nutcracker” choreographed by Andrzej Glegolski based on Petipa’s staging concept.

   To mark the 100th anniversary of the great choreographer’s death and as a tribute to his memory, all these works returned to our stage many times over the this year or so. They was performed by our leading soloists and the Polish National Ballet’s corps de ballet. On 31 January 2010, “La Bayadère” featured a guest performance by Alina Somova and Denis Matvienko, the stars Mariinsky Theatre Ballet. This part of our repertoire is an expression of our huge respect for the origins of classical ballet, but also an opportunity to present the artistic excellence of our ballet company.

   Also in 2010, Warsaw will again play host to our friends from Boris Eifman’s St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre. On 8, 9, and 10 September the group will open the 2nd Days of Dance at the Teatr Wielki with their original version of “Don Quixote” - one of Marius Petipa’s most famous ballets.

(Picture: Marius Petipa, photo 1898)