Pochwała decorum

Wkrótce w sprzedaży majowe wydanie „Teatru”, a w nim między innymi esej Grzegorza Kondrasiuka o postawie teatru wobec globalnego kryzysu ekologicznego, rozmowa Dominika Gaca z Pawłem Passinim na marginesie lubelskiego przedstawienia Dziadów z zespołem Wolnych Kupałowców, oraz czwarta część opowieści Natalii Błok o teatrze ukraińskim. Przedstawienie wspomniane w moim tekście recenzowałam już na tych łamach – nie okazało się ani gniotem, ani arcydziełem, co nie zmienia faktu, że poruszone w felietonie problemy wciąż nam doskwierają i co gorsza, mogą z nami pozostać na długie, trudne lata. Zapraszam do lektury.
Pochwała decorum

A na wojnie krzyczą Muzy

Scripta manent. Cykl moich felietonów W kwarantannie powstał z myślą o artystach i miłośnikach opery odciętych od żywego teatru przez pandemię – żeby podsunąć im pomysły, jak przetrwać ten czas, nie rezygnując z muzycznych doznań, i skłonić do refleksji, jak ten świat zmienić, kiedy zaraza odpuści. Okrutnym zrządzeniem losu przyszło mi teraz pisać o wojnie. Teksty, publikowane mniej więcej w miesiąc od czasu ich powstania, w szczegółach tracą na aktualności, być może nawet szybciej niż felietony „kowidowe”. Sedno jednak pozostaje – co odnotowuję sobie na pociechę i zachodnim kolegom po fachu ku przestrodze. Bo nie upłynął jeszcze miesiąc od fali entuzjazmu, jaka przetoczyła się w mediach branżowych po decyzji Bogdana Roščicia, że wiedeńska Staatsoper będzie grać „ponad podziałami”. Jak się właśnie okazało, był to jedynie wytrych do tylnych drzwi, którymi dyrektor zamierza wpuścić do swojego teatru nie tylko Annę Netrebko, ale też innych muzyków popierających inwazję na Ukrainę bądź finansowanych przez obecny reżim w Rosji. Kiedy krzyczeć, jak nie teraz? Milczenie przestało być złotem.

A na wojnie krzyczą Muzy

A Bard of the Community

Jane Austen was a wonderful storyteller. So wonderful that I owe my entire notion of Bath – where she spent six years of her life and where her pastor father was buried – to her books. I remembered from Northanger Abbey that Bath was a delightful place, provided you knew someone there, and that fine weather drove all the locals out for a walk, prompting weather-themed conversations. Raised in the countryside, Austen had an ambivalent – to put it mildly – attitude to Bath. She moved here with her family at a time when the town was already enjoying a reputation as the most fashionable and elegant resort in England thanks to the forefather of British dandies known as “Beau Nash” ­– an arbiter elegantiarum, informal master of ceremonies, keen gambler and a lady killer. To Austen Bath must have seemed like a metropolis – a city dazzling with the beauty of its buildings, full of temples of culture, tempting with a multitude of shops, but, at the same time, terrifying: because of the crowds of visitors, the abundance of brothels and the suffocating atmosphere of a “seat of amusement and dissipation”.

Amazingly, my impressions from my first visit to Bath were similar to Austen’s. Gigs made in London were replaced with omnipresent cars. The streets were teeming not with spring-craving aristocrats, but with crowds of tourists making up for the time lost during the pandemic. The more convinced I was that I was following the simplest route to my destination, the more astray I went. Yet I left the city believing that Bath was a delightful place – especially given that I managed to fulfil Mrs Allen’s requirement from Northanger Abbey. I knew someone here.

I had met this someone before, more precisely – I had met his extraordinary theatrical imagination, returning from performances directed and devised by him as Joanna Kulmowa writes in her poem Po co jest teatr (What is theatre for): deep in thought, but above all in awe. Thomas Guthrie began as a fine singer with a warm, handsome baritone, great musical sensitivity and exceptional interpretative instinct. He followed a path similar to that of most of his British colleagues: from a child chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge, through reading Classics at the local Trinity College and studying music at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, to first prizes in vocal competitions and scholarships to study under renowned masters like Thomas Allen. He took part in small-scale operatic ventures as well as events under the baton of outstanding conductors. He was equally enthusiastic performing in both leading and episodic roles. In addition, he sang in the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus and collaborated with early music ensembles. He took part in the famous pilgrimage of John Eliot Gardiner’s musicians, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death with concerts in churches all over the world, during which almost all of Bach’s cantatas were performed. With time Guthrie gained recognition as a performer and scholar of the art song repertoire, including the legendary cycles of Schubert and Schumann.

Thomas Guthrie. Photo: Frances Marshall

However, there was something that always made him different from the aspiring singers from his homeland, who were busy climbing their career ladders and building their own positions on prestigious stages across the world. It became apparent that Guthrie was a born storyteller, a modern-day aoidos, who spun his stories in such a way that he was able not only to include in them the author’s intentions and his own interpretation of them, but also to draw the audience into the discourse – the less familiar the audience was with the material and convention of the work, the better. Other artists delivered their musical sermons from the inaccessible heights of the stage. Guthrie discovered he had the soul of an itinerant preacher. He began to direct. By accident or out of contrariness, in the course of preparations for a production staged by a certain ambitious opera troupe. He sang a small role in the production and eventually ended up on the poster as co-director, convinced from the first rehearsals – apparently rightly so – that he was able to better direct his fellow singers. In 2004, commissioned by New Kent Opera, he produced a venture that gave everyone a foretaste of the vision of theatre that had been forming in his mind and took the critics’ breath away – a semi-staged performance of Schubert’s Winterreise, in which Guthrie the singer was hidden behind a coarsely carved puppet wandering through a monochrome deserted landscape of animated drawings by Peter Bailey.

Three years later Guthrie became a Jette Parker Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, London, where he assisted in productions by Robert Carsen and Katie Mitchell, among others. Yet it was Winterreise and “grassroots work” that set the course for his later activities. Guthrie is not so much an educator as a restorer of community through music and theatre. He loves working with amateurs, children, people unjustly excluded and those who have become demoralised through fault of their own, but not in order to “train” them to appreciate high art.  On the contrary, Guthrie listens to them, searches for a common ground and only then does he introduce them to the world of his own imagination and co-creates theatre with them, theatre where every shadow, every flash of light and visual sign becomes a fully-fledged participant in the drama, a disembodied being conducting a dialogue with the audience. Where a puppet is more alive than a human, where everything is “different than ever before” (Kulmowa again) and constantly balances on the thin line between adult fantasy longing for childhood, and the world of primeval emotions and fears.

My first live performance of one of his productions was five years ago at Longborough. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in which Guthrie easily involved the audience in the production of additional special effects. I did not think that this stylised, minimalistic, sometimes even naïve theatre would work even better in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman – without a ship, without a sea and without a port, but with such an emphatic suggestion of their existence, achieved with a few gestures and inconspicuous props, that every staging of this opera has seemed overloaded to me ever since. For more than a decade Guthrie has been making his tiny theatre in the most unlikely configurations and spaces – in 2017 he staged an adaptation of Carmen at the Dartmoor Prison, with the production featuring the local inmates. However, as a director he prefers to tell more intimate stories: through art songs cycles and masterpieces of the oratorio repertoire.

Der fliegende Holländer at the LFO, 2018. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis

From the beginning of the pandemic, which hit the British music community particularly hard, Guthrie sought not only to financially support artists confined to their homes. Above all, he pulled them out of their apathy and hopelessness, initiated new ventures and called for a complete change in their thinking about art and its contribution to the life of the community at large. Last year, together with the Oxford Bach Soloists, he directed an online-only staging of Bach’s St John Passion, again combining the asceticism of theatrical means with an incredible precision of directing actors: those of flesh and blood, in the persons of the musicians, and those from a different, symbolic narrative order – dead or at least silent witnesses of Jesus’ Passion, “played” by elements of technical equipment.

In Bath he produced a project drawing on his earlier experiences with Bach’s Passion and motets. This time he joined forces with a similar enthusiast of community music making: Sarah Latto, artistic director of the Echo, a young professional vocal ensemble, and current head of Paragon Singers, which has grown from a group of eight music lovers meeting for rehearsals in a flat near Bath’s Georgian Paragon Buildings complex to become one of the finest chamber choirs in the region. The very fact that Messiah 250 did take place testifies to the artists’ inexhaustible tenacity. The title refers to the 250th anniversary of a performance of Handel’s masterpiece at the local Octagon Chapel under the direction of William Herschel, the discoverer of planet Uranus and infrared radiation, who was also a keen musician and composer – as well as the first organist at the newly built chapel. Project events were planned for 2019 – with some delay with regard to the anniversary, as Herschel’s concert took place in 1767. Nothing came out of these plans in 2019, then came the pandemic, but the project originators had their own way in the end. The concert on 5 March crowned the whole venture, which also included sessions for beginners and advanced music lovers, documentary workshops for Bath Spa University students as well as a partnership with the local charity Julian House, which focuses on supporting and activating the homeless.

Messiah 250 at St Swithin’s Church. Photo: Echo Vocal Ensemble

The Octagon, a private chapel, was never consecrated and lost its religious function already in the 19th century. Thus the concert was held at St Swithin’s Church, next to which the remains of Reverend George Austen, Jane Austen’s father, were laid to rest in 1805. The small church in what used to be the outskirts of Bath was full. The story of the Annunciation, the suffering of Jesus and the promise of universal resurrection was told again by Guthrie in a language derived directly from music and drawing on the most sincere emotions. What mastery and, at the same time, simplicity in the communication of the directorial cues are needed in order for joy, uncertainty, awe, despair and ecstasy to be marked with a different shade on the face and in the gestures of each musician, including the instrumentalists? What understanding is needed between Latto, who holds the whole thing together, and the director to make every gesture of the conductor both musically legible and significant in the story, to make it at one time resemble maternal tenderness, at another a grimace of derision, at yet another pure ecstasy? What wisdom to trust that such theatre liberates, purifies, allows musicians to reach their interpretative best? And to be right to boot?

I don’t know whether Jane Austen would have liked a Messiah told in such a way. I have a feeling that, indeed, she would. Perhaps she would have felt less strange in this unfriendly city. In Austen’s times the world suffered from a shortage of men. Today it suffers from a shortage of storyteller directors, especially ones that are worth their salt.

Translated by: Anna Kijak
Original article available at: https://teatr-pismo.pl/18069-piewca-wspolnoty/

Piewca wspólnoty

Już w domu – za kilka dni zabiorę się do recenzji dwóch skrajnie odmiennych przedsięwzięć madryckiego Teatro Real. Tymczasem – znów z pewnym opóźnieniem – przedstawiam Państwu esej o reżyserze uprawiającym dyscyplinę wciąż u nas niepopularną i niedocenianą, a przez niego samego zwaną „opowiadaniem historii”. Mam wrażenie, że w tych trudnych czasach muzyczny storytelling jest nam potrzebny bardziej niż kiedykolwiek. Przy okazji polecam całość kwietniowego numeru „Teatru”, zwłaszcza blok materiałów „Głosy z Ukrainy”.

https://teatr-pismo.pl/18069-piewca-wspolnoty/

Pan Maluśkiewicz i husyci

Ponieważ nie warto nieustannie się martwić, a nieraz – nawet w najgorszych czasach – trzeba się także pośmiać, po recenzji z brneńskiej Alciny proponuję Państwu felieton z tego samego, marcowego numeru „Teatru”. Pisany tuż po powrocie z tamtego spektaklu, więc także o Czechach, a ściślej o uwielbianym przeze mnie Janaczku i jego mniej znanej, nie do końca udanej i w sumie pechowej operze. Ale też o Polakach, a raczej o tym, co nas od Czechów niezmiennie różni. Może czas najwyższy, żeby wziąć przykład z naszych południowych sąsiadów, usiąść w jakimś polskim odpowiedniku Vikárki na praskich Hradczanach i niekoniecznie urżnąć się do nieprzytomności – jak pan Brouček – tylko pomyśleć, co tu zrobić, żeby było zarazem wesoło i konstruktywnie.

Pan Maluśkiewicz i husyci

Circe From the Southern Seas

The premiere of Alcina, Handel’s third opera based on themes from Orlando furioso, came at the height of his London rivalry with Nicola Porpora, who not only was Italian, but also had talent, huge financial support from Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, and several stars in his ensemble – headed by two famous castratos, Senesino and Farinelli. When Popora stormed triumphantly into the King’s Theatre, Handel packed his stuff and moved a few streets away, to a brand new theatre in Covent Garden. He started modestly, from the pasticcio Oreste; less than a month later, in January 1735, had to live with the cold reception of  Ariodante; but persevered and on 16 April put on Alcina, this time with more success. He tinkered with the score until the very last moment, got his best singers involved in the production, kept adding new roles and wove into the typically Italian fabric of opera seria choruses and dance divertissements, fashionable in France at the time, taking advantage of the presence of Marie Sallé’s famous troupe. Alcina was performed eighteen times in less than two months, was revived after Sallé’s departure without the ballet scenes and its run ended for good in 1737. In the same season Handel saw the rival Opera of the Nobility go bankrupt, with Porpora fleeing London in ignominy. Handel soon went back to the Haymarket theatre, but after the failure of Serse he abandoned Italian opera forever.

Resurrected nearly two hundred years later, the “enchanted” Alcina is now considered to be one of Handel’s greatest masterpieces. The story of a sorceress who “having enjoyed her lovers for a brief moment, would then turn them into animals and trees,” – as we read in the author’s commentary to the first Polish translation of Ariosto’s poem by Piotr Kochanowski – suggests a number of tropes that are by no means obvious. Alcina can be seen as a figure of transience, a metaphor for the loneliness of a woman who, after years of amorous games, has finally fallen in love and is unable to keep the object of her affections with her. The man in question is the noble knight Ruggiero, rescued by the intrepid Bradamante in the male guise of Ricciardo. As can easily be imagined, this operatic qui pro quo launches a whole sequence of surprising events and amorous errors. What is harder to imagine, the whole thing ends with an extraordinarily emotional clash between the sorceress and a pair of “true” lovers, a class that leaves the audience with a vague feeling of compassion for the abandoned Alcina. This whole convoluted story brings to mind more or less obvious associations with Odysseus’ year-long sojourn on the island of the enchantress Circe, who turned his companions into pigs and bore him a son, Telegonus, who, in one version of the myth, would later kill his father and marry Penelope, left behind on Ithaca.

Alcina in Brno. Photo: Marek Olbrzymek

Alcina’s island is located in an operatic Neverland, in the middle of the ocean, somewhere east of India. The sorceress’ successive conquests are witnessed by her former lovers – turned into wild beasts, trees and sea waves. Her palace is only an illusion that will be shattered with the destruction of the magic urn and triumph of true love. Nothing is what it seems to be here, no one is an unequivocal hero nor – even more so – an obvious villain. Although since the great revival of the opera at Venice’s La Fenice in 1960, when Alcina was sung by Joan Sutherland and the production was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, dozens of artists have taken on Handel’s masterpiece, no one has ever thought about destroying this enchanted world, engaging in a futile dispute with a fairy tale and rationalising the rather irrational choices of its protagonists.

In Poland Alcina has never been staged, except once at the Dramma per Musica Festival in Warsaw (2018). The story of the absence of Handel’s works and other pieces from the standard Baroque repertoire from our stages is part of a broader tale about the state of Polish opera houses and the thinking of their directors. A way out of this impasse would require a radical change of approach: to the music itself, to its links to theatre and literary tradition, and to the people who are experts and can infect others with their enthusiasm. How this is done I will briefly say, referring to the recent premiere at the National Theatre in Brno, a co-production with Théâtre de Caen and Opéra Royal–Château de Versailles.

Let me start by pointing out that the whole venture was done from scratch at a Czech opera house – true, in close collaboration with an external ensemble, but it was a Czech ensemble as well: the Collegium 1704 headed by Václav Luks, who have been consistently building their position as one of the best period performance ensembles in the world, with the joy of playing, singing and understanding on all levels accompanying them at every step of their intense activity. Then I will move to a decision that seems completely incomprehensible in Poland – to present an international star team of soloists only in one performance in Brno, and not the opening night at that. The remaining performances featured mainly local singers, perhaps not quite on a par with foreign specialists, but competent enough not to bring disgrace to the second biggest centre of musical culture in Czechia, where Leoš Janáček spent most of his life.

Photo: Marek Olbrzymek

Then I will stress that the whole production was the work of a Czech creative team – members of which were not only experts at their trade, but also devoted to opera with their hearts and souls, musically well-educated and familiar with the specificity of this extraordinary form. I have written about Jiří Heřman’s directorial art many times, on these pages too. Heřman is also a singer, which is why it is hardly surprising that his ideas rarely miss the essence of the work. His theatre is clear, visually beautiful and highly symbolic – like the entire Czech operatic theatre, smoothly continuing the local traditions of expressionism, Liberated Theatre poeticism and the aesthetic legacy of černé divadlo.

Heřman’s Alcina impresses with attention to detail and coherence of staging, another evidence of excellent collaboration with the other members of the creative team. Dragan Stojčevski’s sets – enhanced and made unreal by a system of theatrical mirrors – combine the ostentatious splendour of Baroque interiors with the oneiricism of fairy-tale landscapes, allusions to Boticelli with references to Magritte’s mysterious worlds. The pitch blackness, pale gold, turquoise and smoky pink of the costumes designed by Alexandra Gruskova stand out sharply against the greyness of the sky, the cobalt blue of the sea and malachite green of the vegetation. In Jan Kodet’s phenomenal choreography each of the enchanted lovers creates a multidimensional character whose mute tragedy can be discerned even from behind a fixed animal mask.

Heřman balances the dramaturgical shortcomings of Alcina by  grotesque and often broad humour (among the hapless enchanted lovers we find also a large pufferfish as well as a huge penguin introducing some additional chaos into the already convoluted love plot of the opera). Although the director sometimes repeats his gags and other stage ideas, especially in Act III, which at some point gets dangerously close to losing its momentum, fortunately he makes up for these losses in the beautiful finale – with a lonely sorceress no longer entertaining any illusions, an Indian Circe “who cannot die as long as the world lasts”, but who probably has no hope that some lost Odysseus will drop anchor by the shores of her ruined kingdom.

Photo: Marek Olbrzymek

A production put together with such expertise and care opens up a possibility for a truly honest discussion about performance details. The cast I saw at the second performance – the international one, who will soon present Alcina to the wider world – had virtually no weak links. The artistry that shone the brightest was that of Karina Gauvin, an experienced Handelian, who sang the title role. The revelation of the evening was the young Czech contralto Monika Jägerová as Bradamante. Tomáš Král (Melisso) and Krystian Adam (Oronte) were in a class of their own in their small but important roles. However, we may wonder whether the role of Ruggiero, written for Carestini, an alto castrato, should have been entrusted to the otherwise phenomenal Kangmin Justin Kim, a singer with a highly lyrical male soprano voice.  We may argue whether Mirella Hagen’s light and girlish flightiness are appropriate for Morgana, who is Alcina’s sister after all.

I envy the French, who will soon have an opportunity to relish the whole production and, if necessary, point to a few slight shortcomings in it. That is, if it occurs to them to complain about anything. Representatives of the co-producing companies leaped to their feet after the curtain came down and gave the artists a round of prolonged thunderous applause. This did not surprise me at all. I still cannot believe what I saw and heard so near our southern border.

Translated by: Anna Kijak
Original article at: https://teatr-pismo.pl/17792-kirke-z-morz-poludniowych/

Kirke z Mórz Południowych

Podczas tej wojny Muzy nie milkną i milknąć nie powinny, o czym sporo w marcowym numerze „Teatru”. Ponieważ miesięcznik w formie drukowanej znów odrobinę się spóźni, już dziś anonsuję część tekstów dostępnych na stronie internetowej, między innymi wiersze z Ukrainy – powstałe w minionych tygodniach, już po inwazji; esej Dominika Gaca o wolnym teatrze białoruskim; oraz rozmowy z reżyserami: Jacka Cieślaka z Iwanem Wyrypajewem i Katarzyny Tokarskiej-Stangret z Jurijem Morawickim. A gwoli wytchnienia od rzeczywistości – moja relacja z Brna i premiery Alciny w tamtejszym Teatrze Narodowym.

Kirke z Mórz Południowych

Dzieci wielkiego głodu

Inter arma silent Musae – ale same milknąć nie powinny. Trudno teraz zebrać myśli, choć właściwie powinnam chwycić za pióro i podsumować wrażenia z niedawnego wyjazdu operowego. Poczekam jeszcze kilka dni, zwłaszcza że drugi tekst z lutowego numeru „Teatru” – który i tak wkrótce miałam Państwu udostępnić i który pisałam prawie dwa miesiące temu – w jakiś upiorny (tym razem małą literą) sposób wpisuje się w kontekst koszmaru rozgrywającego się tuż za naszą granicą. Dedykuję go przyjaciołom Ukraińcom i proszę, żeby mimo wszystko zaczerpnęli z niego nadzieję. Niech i ta straszna baśń kiedyś dobrze się skończy. Oby jak najprędzej.

Dzieci wielkiego głodu

Wyczerpanie

Lutowy „Teatr” na papierze ukaże się z opóźnieniem, dlatego nieomal cała zawartość numeru pojawiła się już w sieci. W numerze między innymi szkic Katarzyny Bieli o twórczości teatralnej Zenona Fajfera, na marginesie ostatniego spektaklu Anny Augustynowicz po trzydziestu latach dyrektorowania w Teatrze Współczesnym w Szczecinie; portret Luka Percevala pióra Jolanty Kowalskiej; rozmowa Jacka Cieślaka z Waldemarem Raźniakiem i Beniaminem M. Bukowskim, tandemem szefów Starego Teatru; oraz moja recenzja z warszawskiej Cyganerii, przedstawieniu „o osobistej tragedii Wysockiej, którą pandemia wytrąciła z normalnego życia, zabrała jej teatr w ukochanej dotychczas postaci, zniechęciła do planowania czegokolwiek”. Zapraszamy do lektury.

Wyczerpanie

Trzecia młodość

W tych dniach lepiej nie myśleć, albo – dla odmiany – myśleć o całkiem czymś innym. W nadziei, że to właśnie Państwa pocieszy, dzielę się linkiem do mojego tekstu w najnowszym numerze „Tygodnika Powszechnego”. To krótka opowieść o powikłanych losach klawesynu: na marginesie błyskotliwej kariery młodego francuskiego wirtuoza Jeana Rondeau: z pominięciem tropów jasnych i oczywistych dla większości moich Czytelników. Za kilka dni recenzja z pewnej płyty z całkiem nieoczywistym repertuarem, a wkrótce potem, jeśli nic się po drodze nie zdarzy, Upiór znów ruszy w świat. Oby nie po raz ostatni.

Trzecia młodość