Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Stefan Sutkowski - An Apologia - Warsaw Chamber Opera Concert (Warszawska Opera Kameralna) to celebrate the publication of 'Mój Teatr : 1961-2011' (My Theatre 1961-2011)

Certainly Warsaw has provided me with a number of unique musical experiences and last night in the superlative ballroom of the Royal Castle was no exception.

Stefan Sutkowski, the Artistic Director of the Warsaw Chamber Opera, has being going through a difficult administrative period recently and it seemed in many ways a fitting rejoinder to present his latest publication Mój Teatr: 1961-2011 to redress some unwelcome media attention. This substantial volume has been written over a period of 50 years and contains a history of the company, articles written by him for the premières of opera performances, accounts of important events at the theatre and concerts, personal memoirs, festival announcements, acknowledgements and an account of members of his family going back as far as the Great War.

To celebrate this publication the great early piano builder Paul McNulty managed to assemble five of his pianos from different historical periods. His Russian wife Viviana Sofronitsky played appropriate pieces of the period represented by the copies. She is the highly talented daughter of the great Vladimir Sofronitsky who studied at the Warsaw Conservatoire with the brilliant Chopinist, Polish pedagogue and pianist Aleksander Michałowski. She performed regularly in the chamber music and concerto sections at the annual Mozart Festival. Her recordings of the complete Mozart Piano concertos with Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense for Pro Musica Camerata on a McNulty instrument are benchmarks of charm and musical refinement, quality and performance practice.

While writing this post I have just received some terrible news from Paul McNulty. During dinner last night following the concert Stefan Sutkowski was suddenly taken ill with a suspected heart attack and taken to hospital by ambulance.

The five Paul McNulty fortepianos in the exquisite Ballroom of the Royal Castle, Warsaw
Lt. to Rt.   J.A.Stein (ca.1788); A. Walter (ca.1792); C.Graf (ca. 1830); J. Pleyel (1830); L. Boisselot(1846)

Viviana Sofronitsky at the Stein instrument in the Ballroom of the Royal Castle, Warsaw 

Viviana Sofronitsky at the Boisselot piano in the Ballroom of the Royal Castle, Warsaw

Instead of resuming this posting as I originally intended, below appears an apologia for Stefan Sutkowski in the form of a letter to a friend who does not entirely share my views.

My dear friend

Yes you are right - I do lack objectivity concerning Stefan Sutkowski and Warszawska Opera Kameralna. I cannot rid myself of affection for the company despite these 'financial revelations'.

In the world of art there are many unpleasant background stories if you delve deep enough – Bernhard Berenson; Georges Wildenstein; Herbert von Karajan’s relationship with the Nazi Party; Wilhelm Furtwangler’s alleged ‘collaboration’ with them; Arturo Toscanini the screaming martinet; Riccardo Muti ruthlessly tyrannical toward maintaining production values at La Scala; Richard Wagner financially opportunistic and rabidly anti-Semitic - the list is endless. Vanity, ego, perseverance at whatever cost, obsession with perfection, losing oneself to what might be considered a 'normal' life, are all required by creative artists to succeed. I use additional and different parameters of judgement to the conventional moral and financial strictures and limitations in matters pertaining to art.

I simply cannot condemn anything Stefan Sutkowski achieved artistically because of some alleged financial mismanagement, over-manning or his reported attitude to some of his singers or production staff. From this amateur musician and writer’s point of view his achievement was very considerable indeed in world terms, not only Polish. After all his productions required five or six languages from the singers. Why would he not have a large number of performers to call upon? I have no idea nor do I really care what music critics or professional musicians think of what he achieved with this company. It was certainly absolutely remarkable for me and I trust my own musical judgement.

I am really not concerned with how he achieved these artistic triumphs. He devoted his entire life to this company. I noticed no S Class Mercedes ferrying him from the opera house to a palatial Dwor in the country nor did I notice him wearing Armani suits or Lanvin ties. I did however notice his absolute dedication to art (perhaps too dedicated?) and his devotion to the opera company of his own creation.

Often forgotten is the publishing house he established and the significant  commissioning and publication of important research projects on unjustifiably neglected early Polish music. Fine monographs were published on instruments, particularly Polish baroque organs, on which this music was performed.

Stefan Sutkowski gives people incalculable artistic and intellectual pleasure. The tickets for these outstanding performances were, at least in the 1990s, remarkably inexpensive. He often gave wine or coffee to the complete audience during the interval. The opera house was so small (seating perhaps 150) that a rare eighteenth century intimacy was created and remained paramount. All gestures of the artistic temperament and a generous soul.

The Opera Kameralna company had a profound effect on me in 1992 when I attended the Second Mozart Festival. At that time I was just a simple member of the enthusiastic audience and not a professional working musician. I actually kept renewing my work contract in Warsaw partly because I had never attended such a series of chamber operas in my entire and actually full musical life in London. This was long before matters became romantically serious with a beautiful Polish lady. Our early courting was done within the confines of this magical opera house of dreams. Love flowered in my heart in this enchanted place. I had only ever seen a couple of the better known Mozart operas in big productions at Covent Garden or the English National Opera. But here I was presented with all twenty-five Mozart stage works. They appeared uniformly connected  thematically and stylistically in production, costume design and scena.

Additionally there was the extraordinary phenomenon (to me at least) of the sopranist Darius Paradowski, a great star of the Opera Kameralna stage, in fact a star of any stage. Bunches of flowers rained down. The voice of an angel in the body of a Nureyev. The present chief conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, Sir Mark Elder, was overcome with admiration when I played him a recording of Paradowski in London. His voice and stage presence at Opera Kameralna were unforgettable in castrati roles, exactly what Mozart had in mind. In addition during this festival I experienced many of Mozart’s chamber and concerto works previously unknown to me. Period pianos like the ones we heard this evening were commissioned to provide an authentic period experience for Mozart.

Many is the hour I spent in bliss in this opulent ballroom listening to Viviana Sofronitky performing a Mozart piano concerto on a McNulty copy of a Walter fortepiano. When I commissioned my own harpsichord in London at the age of 25 by a truly great maker, David Rubio, it cost the price of a small London house. I had not a hope in hell of paying for it but convinced my bank manager to lend me the sum for ‘Home Improvements’. Certainly a harpsichord was a great 'improvement' to my home  but 
this is not quite what the bank had in mind I am sure! 'Naughty but nice' is my rather trite response to those taking the moral high ground on overextending your budget on art. Is there an artist alive who does not live and work beyond his means? Art and careful economic husbandry make strange and sterile bedfellows indeed. Untutored politicians, civil servants and accountants take note.

At that time such an exhaustive Mozart Festival as this had never ever been attempted anywhere in Europe. It remained unique for a long time until the Salzburg Festival mounted something similar once to celebrate Mozart’s 250th anniversary. Mozart himself lived way beyond his means but who cares today? The world of music is incalculably richer.

The Opera Kameralna festivals had an indelible effect on me. And it was not only Mozart I marvelled at. There was the quite astonishing Monteverdi Festival with extraordinary machines inspired by Leonardo da Vinci drawings, the Handel festival, operas by Purcell and even the relatively obscure but wonderful John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. This was quite apart from obscure operas ranging from the  Renaissance to Poulenc and the staging of new Polish work and forgotten major works in the operatic field. The first performance of the Easter Passion by Joseph Elsner (Chopin's teacher) scored for mighty forces of hundreds of musicians was a case in point. Then the rarely heard Bach St.Luke Passion...and so the list goes on.

Do the politicians, civil servants, journalists and accountants who wrote or inspired these articles and arranged the audits of accounts have the slightest understanding or sympathy for how these extraordinary artistic endeavours, which contributed so much to the cultural respect Poland enjoys on the international stage, were achieved? 'They know not what they do' to quote a far higher source. I have often thought there is little evidence of Christian principles in this intensely Roman Catholic country when financial or other ‘scandalous revelations’ occur. The hyenas and vultures gather. Small minds and small hearts beat furiously. Understanding, kindness and compassion seem thin on the ground. From the articles I have read, eyes are firmly fixed on the financial considerations and how ‘public money’ was utilised. To the greatest effect I would say – just look at the astonishing artistic results achieved over fifty years. I repeat fifty years.

Football stadiums of course are permitted free and easy budgetary reign and cost 'flexibilty' in the new religion of sport while Sutkowski’s plan for a world class concert hall in Warsaw is ignored. Readers of this blog will know how scandalous I feel the lack in Warsaw of a world class concert hall, the lack of political will towards supporting musical culture in this way in Poland. Staging opera is one of the most expensive entertainments in the world hence the sometimes outrageous prices of tickets. Yet one never felt exploited by ticket prices at Opera Kameralna.

I am sure most of the Polish audience at this concert tonight would have had similar very confused feelings to me. They are in much the same position as myself emotionally. All these ‘revelations’ are almost impossible to deal with rationally after you have been involved in the metaphysical world of musical art in the close and unique atmosphere of that small intimate theatre, a thing that Sutkowski had somehow, through impossible reversals of fortune, has facilitated for us. The space approached the intimacy of a royal court theatre, only two of which exist in the world. One in Sweden and one here in Warsaw in Lazienki Park. Unforgettable moments too occurred in that magical theatre created by that great aesthetic connoisseur, King Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski, a man similarly mindlessly maligned for artistic extravagance. Perhaps it is a love affair I have with Warszawa Opera Kameralna. Not much rationality at all but then true art operates at a far deeper level than the merely conscious.

I spoke to Sutkowski often during many intervals and never had any reason to ‘suspect’ him of anything untoward. Fulsome praise for the achievement was all that entered my tiny head. Why would I as a simple audience member have any ‘inside information’ on his attitude to his singers or how the operation was funded. Why would this worry me anyway? Many of the singers I spoke to regarded Opera Kameralna as one large happy family. He seemed to represent everything I most admired most about the nobility, lack of materialism, idealism and honour of the Polish ‘old school’ of gentlemen. This has not and will not change.

You know, many of Henrik Ibsen’s plays deal with the terrible consequences in life of telling the absolute truth and what he terms the ‘saving lie’. Many of his plays demonstrate this - Enemy of the People for example or The Wild Duck. Such lessons were scarcely conceived of or learned in Poland during the dreaded period of lustracja. Few human lives withstand minutely close examination. 

I am suffering from this dilemma – I really do not want to know and I think many in Poland feel the same, however irresponsible and lacking in objectivity this might sound. Like infidelity in a long-term marriage. Is it better to know? Often not the case given the incalculable consequences of revealing the ‘truth’ whatever that may be defined as being. Pass over in silence and come to a quiet arrangement.

I still see this entire issue as the ways of the old regime in fatal, even tragic, collision with new, modern and efficient financial ‘transparency’. Sutkowski cleverly and courageously survived the hard school of Polish Socialism. The remains of that system I certainly experienced in 1991-94 when I was working in Warsaw. The ‘Sutkowski Syndrome’ arose all the time in many different areas of my working life as new methods and ideas of capitalism were often unsuccessfully laid across the decaying old ways of doing things. I learned that allowances should be made and opportunities for defense given in private. The drawing of a line under matters of this kind, the gruba kreska. Lech Wałęsa understood this very well and has recently been much criticized for the subsequent abuse of it.  However he had a point. This initial philosophy of approach, despite the dangers, has been forgotten with the passing of years.

At that time I tried to understand the difficulty and opportunities, good and venal, that ideological change and practical adaption offered to apparatchiks, nomenklatura and ordinary people. But then this is Poland and I am merely a foreigner. I will not go into this – I wrote an entire book touching on these very issues. 

I feel that unfortunately when such scandals as this erupt around people who have achieved much and selflessly given a great deal of their lives to a distinguished idea or career, most of their past achievements are quite forgotten in the fixation and prurient delight in present ‘revelations’. I have witnessed this many times in life – a distinguished scientist falsifies some minor data obsessed with proving his present theory – a doctor touches a pretty girl patient inappropriately for a moment – so what? Does this deserve any gifted and generous individual to be cast into the outer darkness and struck off without a compassionate thought of his great past achievements or consideration of what effect this may have on him personally? Shakespeare wrote movingly of the tragedy of falls from a 'high estate'. I feel this present behaviour and manner of proceeding on the part of the authorities and media is desperately unfair, bordering on the shameful, especially in the case of Stefan Sutkowski. Clearly it is the way of the world. But not my world.

I hope this little essay explains my rather complex emotions towards Stefan Sutkowski and the Warszawska Opera Kameralna – if you are the slightest bit interested in them my friend. I hope you will not disagree too strongly but then quite understandably you cannot feel what I feel just now as he lies in a hospital bed undoubtedly struck down by the added stress of these heartless so-called 'revelations' towards the end of a supremely courageous and distinguished cultural life in music. Quite apart from being a true Polish patriot in the finest sense of that double-edged sword or more correctly sabre.

Best as ever


For an account of Opera Kameralna in the early days of the Mozart Festivals in the early 1990's  : 

Both in English and Polish


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Mazurian Lakes in Poland - my Arcadia

A still from Roman Polanski's film Knife in the Water - Noz w Wodzie set in the Mazurian Lake District of Poland

Click on photos to enlarge

I have just returned from a few days recreation in the superb lake district of Poland known as Mazury. Although not a secret destination for Russians, Poles or Germans (it was the former East Prussia) it is fairly unknown among English and other European travellers. In many parts one drives though tunnels of dappled shade along deserted roads lined with arching lindens and alder. Grasslands and peatlands open out onto lakes fringed with reeds, the occasional yacht leaning into the soft wind,  smoothly  and gently progressing across the waters as if in a dream. Birdsong fills the air and storks clack their long beaks like castanets, nesting and tending their young arrogantly exposed on impossibly high electric poles or disused chimneys.  Wildlife abounds. Pine forests form on the horizon below immense open skies touched here and there by clumps of cumulus. And scarcely any people, at least at this time of year. Roman Polanski set one of his most threateningly atmospheric and to my mind best films on the Mazurian Lakes - Knife in the Water - Noz w Wodzie. It was the beginning of the modern Polish cinema and hated by the Socialists. Polanski had to leave Poland to continue his career.

I chose the rather charming and laid-back town of Gizycko  close to the Kaliningrad frontier as my base mainly because I am rather a hotel fanatic. A Teutonic Knight's castle has recently been restored there and converted into a very fine luxury four star establishment known as the St. Bruno. A highly recommended hotel experienced by this admittedly jaded palate (http://www.hotelstbruno.pl/). Fine restaurant. I reflected that such an establishment would have been inconceivable when I first came to Poland in 1991. The hotel is just the sort of place I love using as a base to explore such a region. In the evenings I could watch the drama of a Euro 2012 match or my main occupation just now, correcting the English proofs of a book recently published on the extraordinarily colourful history of Zelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Chopin. 

The newly opened, beautifully appointed and decorated Hotel St. Bruno at Gizycko in the Polish Mazurian Lake District. The former Teutonic Knights' Chapel to the Virgin can be seen behind the towers.
I leave you with some photographs I took with longer captions rather than labour over purple passages as I really am pressed for time on the biography I am writing. It is just such a wonderful part of Europe I feel I should share it with you - a place to escape and renew one's faith in life, avoiding for a blessed period all the dross and violence that makes up our daily diet of disintegration and despair.

Lake Darglin in the Mazurian Lake District of Poland near Gizycko

One approach to peace of mind in Gizycko in the Mazurian Lake District of Poland

The swing bridge over the Gizycki Canal adjacent to the four star Hotel St. Bruno which has been converted from the original  Teutonic Knight's castle. There are only two manually operated bridges like this in Europe. By a brilliant system of gears a single man can move the 100 ton structure aside to allow yachts to pass through. Attempts were made to modernise the mechanism but the manual system has now been restored as being the most efficient
The Boyen Fortress Gizycko in the Mazurian Lake District of Poland. The structure was commissioned by the Prussian General Hermann von Boyen and completed in 1853 to defend Prussia's eastern border. It covers an area of 100 hectares and could accommodate a complement of 3000 in wartime. The fortress was stategically important throughout WW II when it was utilised by General Heinz Guderian in the camapign against Poland and for intelligence gathering activities on the Eastern Front  for the High Command of the Land Forces at nearby Mamerki. Taken over by the Russians in 1945 it eventually fell into civilian use such as a chicken farm until managed as a tourist attraction by the present 'Friends of Boyen Fortress'
The Gizycko Gate at the Boyen Fortress with a tondo of the Prussian General Hermann von Boyen
Tondo of the Prussian General Hermann von Boyen
The Law Bastion at the Boyen Fortress
On Lake Mamry - Mazurian Lake District of Poland
On Lake Mamry - Mazurian Lake District of Poland

The unusual and historic ruined Palace of Sztynort on Lake Darglin associated with the pre-eminent East Prussian family Lehndorff. First plundered and burnt by the Tatars in 1656 it has been rebuilt many times and hopefully will returned to some vestige of its former glory 
The history of the Palace of Sztynort and the owner Heinrich von Lehndorff's
heroic plot against Hitler (sign erected outside)
Gizycko is a useful base for those wanting not only to sail on the placid lakes and take in the picturesque views but also to visit the historic former Hitler  headquarters known as Wolfschanze or 'Wolf's Lair'. This complex of bunkers was blown up by Nazi sappers as they retreated in the face of the Russians. Although absolutely unmissable if you wish to understand Hitler's paranoid megalomania and also the memorial site to the valiant plotter Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, I have not included 'Wolf's Lair' here. I have been there before, so on this trip I planned to see the HQ of the Nazi High Command of the Land Forces (OKH) 'Anna' at Mamerki by Lake Mamery and the Masurian Canal. It is about 18kms from Wolfschanze. Whereas the Hitler bunkers are ruined, this group of some 200 different structures spread over 250 hectares are largely intact, especially the reinforced concrete structures. One gets a stronger idea of the internal arrangement of these intact bunkers. Their existence is not generally known. I am always forcibly reminded of Aztec temples disappearing inexorably under jungle foliage when I look at these bunker structures being taken over by the incursions of nature.

The 'Post Office' bunker in the HQ of the Nazi High Command of the Land Forces (OKH) 'Anna' at Mamerki

Loopholes like this guarded every corridor entrance to every room within the intact bunkers at OKH

'Aztec' or 'Inca' temple slowly developing in a Polish forest     Et in Arcadia  Ego

I also wanted to visit the ruins of the monumental sytem of canal locks only partially completed by the Nazis. This grand plan was intended to link the Mazurian lakes via the Mazurian Canal to the Baltic Sea. This HQ was also the meeting place for the ill-fated plotters against Hitler's life led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. He completed his military service here from 1941-43.

The monumental lock at Lesniewo Gorne

Internal structure of the canal lock at Lesniewo Gorne

Another view of the monumental lock at Lesniewo Gorne

Possibly less forbidding, almost innocuous, in colour

The partially constructed lock at Lesniewo Dolne

Our intrepid explorer MM armed with a powerful lamp to explore the dark interior of a bunker's heart. Mosquitoes almost ate me alive in there let alone the ghostly Nazi  presences at my shoulder

An interesting water tower has been restored in Gizycko which gives a fine view over the town and lakeland region thereabouts from a viewing platform. Excellent cafe with iced coffee.

Neo-Gothic Water Tower at Gizycko

For further reading from my book on Poland:

http://www.michael-moran.net/poland.htm    (English Edition)


(Polish Edition)

Friday, 15 June 2012

Warsaw Chamber Opera (Warszawska Opera Kameralna) - Haunted by Ghosts of the Past

The present turmoil at the Warsaw Chamber Opera, a highly respected institution with a distinguished cultural history both in Poland and abroad, is an unfortunate reminder that the period of ideological transition is not yet over in Poland, at least in matters of what might be loosely termed 'high culture'. Remnants of past attitudes and adherence to the 'old' thinking and business practices of the past (sometimes impractically idealistic and humanitaran) remain deeply imbedded in the psyche. This has resulted in the present anguished transition of this company to modern more pragmatic business practice and disciplined financing arrangements vital for its continued survival.

I cannot go into details as I am  not intimately familiar with what will undoubtedly become another labyrinthine Polish saga. I just hope that the musician and Artistic Director Stefan Sutkowski is treated with the respect and care this elderly and distinguished  survivor richly deserves. He is a cultural institution himself in this country. I think I said all I want to say in my chapter on this opera company in my book on Poland which you may wish to spend a little time reading.

In judging the present one must not forget the past outstanding artistic achievements of Warszawka Opera Kameralna and its history of survival against impossible odds.

**Scroll down for the Polish Language Version in green


from A Country in the Moon : Travels in Search of the Heart of Poland by Michael Moran (London 2010)


Warsaw is no slave to the cult of celebrity (it cannot afford them) and hence the musical work to be performed is often the primary focus of attention rather than the performer. Many rarely performed works regularly receive an airing in Warsaw. The Ballroom of the Royal Castle is a superb musical venue and an aesthetically overwhelming room. Domenico Merlini, the distinguished eighteenth century Italian architect from Brescia who brought Palladianism to Poland, designed it with the allegorical guidance of king Stanisław Augustus. New gold leaf glisters from every crevice in a blaze of mirrored chandeliers. It was here I heard the first performance for two hundred years of a recently discovered festive piano concerto in the Russian style by Ferdinand Ries, the close friend and pupil of Beethoven. A castle guard in a faux military uniform, complete with a square four-cornered Polish czapka (cap), invariably presents magnificent bunches of flowers to the soloists and gives a brisk salute.

The music of Chopin had been the overriding reason for my coming to Poland and it was with surprise and delight that in the space of six weeks I was unexpectedly presented with all twenty five works that Mozart wrote for the stage. The cycle was performed by one of the most remarkable opera companies in Europe, the Warszawska Opera Kameralna (Warsaw Chamber Opera). Warsaw is the only capital city in the world where such an historically accurate Mozart cycle together with much of his instrumental music is performed on original instruments every year.

Warsaw is no great distance from Vienna and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) was produced in May 1783 by a touring German company for the birthday of King Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski just nine months after the Vienna premiere. Don Giovanni arrived in the capital to play in the National Theatre before the king in October 1789 with the same Italian Domenico Guardasoni company that had premièred the opera just two years before in Prague with Mozart conducting. His operas were performed in Warsaw well in advance of Berlin, Paris or London.

The city has had a distinguished operatic heritage since the early baroque period when it was the only capital other than Rome to have had an opera theatre that hosted famous Italian soloists. Many works were especially written for the Warsaw stage during the Jagiełłon and Vasa dynasties of the seventeenth century. The volatile Tarquinio Merula wrote a theatrical duet called Satiro e Corisca for King Zygmunt III Vasa performed in Warsaw in the summer of 1626 some ten years before public operatic activities began in Venice. The Warsaw Chamber Opera continues this baroque tradition with a magnificent annual Monteverdi festival where all the composer’s operas and staged works are performed.

The story of the Warsaw Chamber Opera and its artistic director Stefan Sutkowski is a remarkable tale of courageous survival and musical exploration under communism or Polish Socialism if you will. Born in Warsaw between the wars, he fled the capital just before he was about to be arrested by the NKVD. He told me he had lost his ‘two best uncles’ during the conflict – one in the Katyń forest massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets in the spring of 1940 and the other during the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944. After the war he studied the oboe and musicology at the University of Warsaw and set up the first early music ensemble in the country, the Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense.

In 1961 he and some theatre friends discussed the possibility of performing a chamber opera. Under communism such an ambitious cultural endeavour was an audacious project as they were completely isolated from important historical source materials lodged in western libraries. At the time he was playing in the National Philharmonic Orchestra which often travelled abroad. This enabled him, unlike his trapped compatriots, to search for an appropriate operatic score. In Vienna he dropped into a bookshop quite by chance and asked for a score of any eighteenth century baroque opera they may have had in stock. After fossicking for some time the bookseller produced a pocket score of the comic intermezzo La serva padrona (The Servant Mistress) by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi which he liked and brought back to Warsaw.

The birth of the Warsaw Chamber Opera took place with this intermezzo in 1961 played first on television and then in the Theatre Royal of the Old Orangery in Łazienki Park, the superb neo-classical creation of King Stanisław Augustus. The company were given a small grant which was withdrawn without explanation after three years by the communist Minister for Culture. For the next seven years it became Sutkowski’s private theatre, funded and sustained by dogged perseverance and self-belief, an unprecedented situation in communist Poland.

‘I had to convince the commissars that Bach’s B-Minor Mass was a masterpiece worthy of performance!’ Sutkowski told me incredulously.

The cost of staging productions brought the company close to despair and collapse. Few people had money for anything in those days let alone the luxury of chamber opera. They decided strong measures were needed.

One morning half a dozen representatives of the company stood on the pavement outside the entrance to the Ministry of Culture on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street contemplating their alternatives. Culture Minister Motyka’s car drew up and as they crowded around one whispered theatrically in his ear

‘This is an attack upon the Minister.’

‘So, let’s go in for coffee.’ he replied, notably quick on his feet.

After talks they found themselves operating as a state theatre under the administration of the Ministry of Culture. But for years the company were forced to wander Warsaw in search of a permanent stage. The authorities finally allocated them the use of the former Calvinist or Dissident Church, a fine neo-classical building by the Saxon architect Szymon Bogomił Zug. The small building was in disrepair and after a tortuous eleven years of redesign and procrastination opened in 1986 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the opera company. The auditorium seats 160 and the resulting intimacy is perfect for operas originally conceived for the court or theatres far smaller than today. The company under the talented theatre director Ryszard Peryt coupled with the vivid scenic imagination of Andrzej Sadowski produced the unprecedented first Mozart festival of twenty-five stage works in 1991, the bicentenary year of the composer’s death. The opera company has made numerous recordings and as a musicologist he founded the Sutkowski Edition which publishes early Polish music, scholarly tomes on the history of Polish music and more esoteric subjects such The History of Polish Organ Cases as Works of Art.

‘I call my opera house the ambassador’s club!’ Sutkowski told me enthusiastically. He has a loyal following in the Warsaw diplomatic corps and is considered a cultural institution in Warsaw.

Zosia, pale and blonde, was dressed in a black mini evening dress and a fine gold chain the first night we met at the opera. The festival was soon to become our favourite place of romantic assignation in Warsaw. We would sit in the small conservatory among paintings of operatic composers and ornamental fig trees drinking coffee from tiny porcelain cups. The young singers could be heard warming their voices with fragments of scales, popular tunes or the arias to come. A moment’s inattention might inadvertently allow a window to drift slightly open to reveal a costumed singer adjusting his wig or a soprano applying makeup or adjusting her breasts in a corset before a lighted mirror. A violin or flute from the orchestra might be practising a particularly difficult leap. The atmosphere was intimate, perfectly eighteenth century, an almost Commedia del Arte prelude of youthful exuberance in anticipation of the opera to come.

My first experience of this theatre was with Lucio Silla, an opera seria composed in 1772 when Mozart was 16 for the carnival season at the Teatro Regio Ducale in Milan. The libretto for this unlikely triumph of virtue was by Giovanni di Gamerra, a writer fond of tombs and lugubrious plots, allegedly drawn towards necrophilia in private life. All Mozart’s musical strengths are here assembled waiting for a decent librettist and the darker shadows of personal maturity to take flight.

The orchestra at the Warsaw Chamber Opera is concealed beneath a proscenium stage. To one side a small apron extends slightly into the auditorium where a harpsichord and cello continuo play under dim lighting. In this intimate theatre the singers seem enormous in stature, the slightest play of emotion visible, the vibration of the voice clearly felt. The intimacy allows a penetration of the mind of the character in a uniquely disconcerting manner. In Lucio Silla, the role of Cecilio, a Senator who has been proscribed by Silla the Dictator of Rome, was composed by Mozart for a castrato. Here it was performed as intended by the remarkable Polish sopranist Dariusz Paradowski with a voice as close to a castrato such as Farinelli as is possible today. This rare voice has an almost shocking affect when first encountered but Paradowski is a consummate actor with the male stage presence of a Nureyev and duly received the flowers and ovations of a star. The youthful operas of Mozart all possess castrato roles such as the lyrical intermezzo Apollo and Hyacinth based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses which he composed with a Latin libretto at the astonishing age of eleven. In the Warsaw cycle visual links are established between each opera in regard to scenery, costume and direction. Voices can be variable but the ultimate coming together of the production is magical. Through these rarely performed works and brilliant productions of the most famous operas (Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Die Zauberflöte are all packed with wonderfully naive eighteenth century ‘stage business’) I was uniquely able to follow the astonishing evolution of Mozart’s operatic inventions as his dramatic genius unfolded.

‘Brother Mozart’ had also been involved with Masonic ritual from an early age when he set a Masonic poem to music dedicated to the doctor who had cured him of smallpox. This was long before his petition to the Fraternity which he joined in 1784 and before the composition of Die Zauberflöte. Music is utilised in many Masonic rituals which led him to compose for the brotherhood throughout his life, particularly the beautiful music for the initiation of his father Leopold. In 1773 Mozart was asked to supply the incidental music to the play Thamos, König in Ägypten (Thamos, King of Egypt) by Tobias Philipp Baron von Gebler. He was later to compose two small Masonic Cantatas. One entitled Die Maurefreude (K471) was composed in 1784 for Ignaz von Born, at that time Master of True Concord. The other, Laut Verkünde Unsre Freude (K623), was the last work he wrote for his lodge named New Crowned Hope. He conducted it on 18 November 1791 while still engaged on the composition of the Requiem. Two days later the composer took to his bed from which he never rose again.

At Łazienki Park in the Theatre on the Island the Warsaw Chamber Opera created a staged version of this incidental music fused with the music of the two cantatas. Late in the evening fluttering funeral candles were lit along the sinuous paths leading to the theatre from the entrance to the park. The orchestral pit lies before a strip of water which isolates the Theatre on the Island (inspired by the ruins of the Temple of Jove at Baalbek in Syria) from the Amphitheatre (modelled on ruins at Herculaneum). Trees were silhouetted against a fading summer sky and the leaves rustled in the light breeze moving over the shattered columns and pediments, the lake a dull mirror reflecting statues of the dying Gaul and Cleopatra. Together with the cry of peacocks ambling along the balustrades of the palace, one was lifted onto a plane of rare classical beauty.

The overture began, music at once spiritually passionate yet graceful. Gradually the chorus, a semi-circle of black-robed hooded figures wearing silver medallions, emerged through the mist. Soloists in black robes entered with huge silver sculptures of mythical beasts reminiscent of Egypt or Assyria resting on their shoulders – a winged bull, a winged lion, an eagle and a winged human head. Behind them a sculpture had been assembled from cannons, the skeletons of horses, scythes, drums and the tattered banners of war, perhaps an oblique reference to Polish history.

A dense moral argument unfolded with the chorus carrying splendidly grotesque banners of the Seven Deadly Sins. A cauldron of flame was lit in the centre of the stage and the winged lion crouched behind it intoning in a mysterious tongue. A mime lit a trough of fire that flashed across the entire width of the theatre coupled with an explosion of cannon which caused the sculpture of war to revolve. The darkness, the ancient ruins, the wind in the trees, the wood pigeons in panic seeking their night nests and the harsh cry of peacocks lifted this setting of the Mozart Masonic Liturgy onto a theatrical and spiritual level which was quite extraordinary. No production could have been more appropriate to the spirit of the original play which dealt with the Masonic conflict between light and darkness.

We drank champagne with the artistic director Stefan Sutkowski under the stars and wandered out of the dark park following the trail of light of the now guttering funery candles. Great music creates a desire for itself, a desire for repetition like a profound sexual relationship. Such Warsaw nights at the Mozart festival sustained me through many of the reversals of fortune associated with that ill-fated project and irresistibly deepened my romantic relationship with Zosia.

For further reading from my book on Poland:
http://www.michael-moran.net/poland.htm (English Edition)


Polish Language Version

Kraj z Księżyca. Podróże do serca Polski

Michael Moran (Czarne - Warszawa 2010)

R O Z D Z I A Ł 1 4

Mozart w Warszawie

Warszawa z pewnością nie jest niewolnikiem kultu gwiazd (nie może sobie na nie pozwolić), dlatego też zwykle uwaga pub- liczności skupia się tutaj na samym dziele muzycznym, a nie na jego wykonawcy. Wystawia się tutaj regularnie wiele utworów, które gdzie indziej grywane są tylko sporadycznie. Sala Balowa Zamku Królewskiego to doskonałe miejsce do koncertowania, a przy tym niezwykle piękne wnętrze. Dominik Merlini, wybitny osiemnastowieczny architekt z Brescii we Włoszech, który wpro- wadził do Polski styl palladiański, zaprojektował wystrój tej sali, kierując się wskazówkami króla Stanisława Augusta. Listki ze złota skrzą się w każdej szczelinie feerii lustrzanych żyrandoli. To właśnie tutaj słyszałem pierwsze od dwustu lat wykonanie odkry- tego niedawno świątecznego koncertu fortepianowego w rosyj- skim stylu, skomponowanego przez Ferdinanda Riesa, bliskiego przyjaciela i ucznia Beethovena. Strażnik zamkowy w uniformie przypominającym do złudzenia wojskowy mundur, łącznie z pol- ską czapką rogatywką, zawsze po koncercie wręcza soliście piękny bukiet kwiatów i zamaszyście salutuje.

Przyjechałem do Polski głównie z powodu Chopina, byłem jednak ogromnie zaskoczony i uradowany, kiedy okazało się, że w ciągu sześciu tygodni mam okazję obejrzeć i wysłuchać wszyst- kie dwadzieścia dwie opery Mozarta. Cykl ten realizowany jest przez jeden z najlepszych zespołów operowych w Europie, War- szawską Operę Kameralną. Warszawa to jedyna stolica na świecie, gdzie tak wierny cykl mozartowski – obejmujący również wiele utworów instrumentalnych – wykonywany jest każdego lata na oryginalnych instrumentach z epoki.

Warszawa leży stosunkowo blisko Wiednia, a operę Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Uprowadzenie z Seraju) wędrowna trupa operowa z Niemiec wykonała w maju 1783 roku, zaled- wie dziesięć miesięcy po wiedeńskiej premierze, na urodziny króla Stanisława Augusta. Don Giovanniego wystawił w Teatrze Narodowym w obecności króla w październiku 1789 roku inny podróżujący po Europie zespół operowy (Włocha Domenica Guardasoniego), który dwa lata wcześniej grał na premierze opery w Pradze pod kierownictwem samego Mozarta. Jego opery wy- stawiane były w Warszawie znacznie wcześniej niż w Berlinie, Paryżu czy Londynie.

Warszawa ma niezwykłe dziedzictwo operowe, sięgające wczesnego baroku, gdy prócz Rzymu była to jedyna stolica z teatrem operowym, w którym gościli słynni włoscy artyści. W xVII wieku napisano wiele dzieł specjalnie dla warszawskiej sceny operowej. Nieobliczalny Tarquinio Merula1 napisał dla Zygmunta III Wazy teatralny duet Satiro e Corisca, który wystawiono w Warszawie w 1626 roku, dziesięć lat przed tym, zanim rozpoczęto działalność operową w Wiedniu. Warszawska Opera Kameralna kontynuuje tę tradycję poprzez fantastyczny festiwal oper barokowych (Monteverdi, Händel, Stefano Landi, Johann Adolf Hasse, John Blow i Henry Purcell), podczas którego wystawiane są opery i dzieła sceniczne tych kompozytorów. 

[Tarquinio Merula (1595–1665) był kompozytorem, organistą i skrzypkiem tworzącym w czasach rozwoju wczesnego baroku. Komponował w weneckim stylu Claudio Monteverdiego i Gio- vanni Gabrielego. Pochodził z Cremony, a do Warszawy przybył w roku 1621 i pozostał tu przez pięć lat na życzenie szwedzkiego króla Polski, Zygmunta III Wazy („najdłuższe i prawdopodobnie najbardziej nieudolne panowanie w historii Polski”, jak zauwa- żył Adam Zamoyski). Polityczna niekompetencja króla oraz jego hojne wsparcie dla sztuki mogły być ze sobą w znacznym stopniu powiązane. Prywatne życie Meruli było tak samo zagmatwane, jak jego nowatorskie kompozycje.]

Blasku przedstawieniom dodają między innymi trzy znakomite śpiewacz- ki: dwie sopranistki Marta Boberska i Olga Pasiecznik oraz mez- zosopranistka Anna Radziejewska.

Historia Warszawskiej Opery Kameralnej i jej dyrektora artystycznego, Stefana Sutkowskiego, to niezwykła opowieść o dzielnej walce o przetrwanie i muzycznych poszukiwaniach w czasach komunizmu. Sutkowski urodzony w Warszawie w cza- sach międzywojennych ponownie znalazł się w stolicy po tym, gdy uciekł wraz z najbliższą rodziną ze wschodniej Polski; było to na kilka godzin przed planowanym przez NKWD aresztowaniem. Po- wiedział mi, że w czasie wojny stracił swoich „dwóch najlepszych wujków” – jednego w masakrze w lesie katyńskim, dokonanej przez Sowietów na polskich oficerach wiosną 1940 roku, drugiego zaś – podczas powstania warszawskiego w sierpniu 1944 roku. Po wojnie uczył się gry na oboju i studiował muzykologię na Uniwer- sytecie Warszawskim, założył również pierwszy w kraju zespół muzyki dawnej, Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense.

W roku 1961 wraz z kilkoma przyjaciółmi zastanawiał się nad możliwością stworzenia opery kameralnej. W czasach komunizmu takie przedsięwzięcie kulturalne było projektem bardzo ambitnym i śmiałym, muzycy nie mieli bowiem dostępu do ważnych źró- deł historycznych przechowywanych w zachodnich bibliotekach. Sutkowski grał wówczas w Orkiestrze Filharmonii Narodowej, która często wyjeżdżała za granicę. Dzięki temu, w odróżnieniu od większości swych rodaków, miał możliwość wyszukiwania od- powiednich partytur operowych. W Wiedniu odkrył niemal przez przypadek partyturę komediowego intermezza La serva padrona (Służąca panią) Giovanniego Battisty Pergolesiego, które bardzo mu się spodobało i które przywiózł ze sobą do Warszawy.

[Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710–1736) spędził większość aktyw- nego twórczo życia na dworze w Neapolu. W 1733 roku wspo- mniane powyżej intermezzo zdobyło wielkie uznanie jako część Il prigioniero superbo (Dumny więzień), opera seria, która popadła w zapomnienie. Chopin uwielbiał jego muzykę.]

Warszawska Opera Kameralna narodziła się w 1961 roku wraz z wykonaniem tego właśnie intermezza, odegranego najpierw w telewizji, a potem w Teatrze Królewskim w Łazienkach. Zespół otrzymał niewielką subwencję, która trzy lata później została bez wyjaśnienia cofnięta przez ówczesnego ministra kultury. Przez na- stępne siedem lat Warszawska Opera Kameralna była prywatnym teatrem Sutkowskiego, utrzymywanym dzięki jego niezwykłej determinacji i wierze we własne możliwości, co w komunistycznej Polsce było sytuacją bez precedensu.

– Musiałem przekonywać urzędników, że Msza h‑moll Bacha to arcydzieło warte wykonania! – powiedział mi kiedyś Sutkowski.

Koszty wystawienia kolejnych produkcji doprowadziły zespół na skraj rozpaczy i rozpadu. Niewielu ludzi miało w tych czasach pieniądze na cokolwiek, nie mówiąc już o takim luksusie jak opera kameralna. Członkowie zespołu postanowili, że muszą podjąć radykalne kroki, by zdobyć fundusze.

Pewnego ranka sześciu przedstawicieli zespołu czekało na chodniku przed wejściem do Ministerstwa Kultury na Krakow- skim Przedmieściu, zastanawiając się, jaki rodzaj działania będzie najskuteczniejszy w tej sytuacji. Kiedy przed budynek zajechał samochód ministra kultury Lucjana Motyki, muzycy otoczyli go ciasnym kołem, a jeden z nich wyszeptał teatralnym, ale niezbyt poważnym szeptem prosto do jego ucha „To jest zamach na mi- nistra”. Miał nadzieję, że dygnitarz zrozumie, jak absurdalna jest ta groźba.

– W porządku, chodźmy na kawę – odparł minister, zaska- kująco szybko orientując się w sytuacji. W ten sposób udało im się wreszcie uzyskać długo wyczekiwane posłuchanie u ministra.

Po tych rozmowach Warszawska Opera Kameralna stała się teatrem państwowym, zarządzanym przez Ministerstwo Kultury. Mimo to jeszcze przez długie lata muzycy zmuszeni byli błąkać się po Warszawie w poszukiwaniu stałej siedziby. Władze przy- znały im w końcu ładny neoklasyczny budynek (niegdyś kościół), który wymagał jednak gruntownego remontu. Po jedenastu latach przebudowywania i odwlekania siedziba została wreszcie otwarta w roku 1986, w dwudziestą piątą rocznicę założenia zespołu. Widownia mieści sto sześćdziesiąt osób, co tworzy kameralny nastrój, idealnie dopasowany do oper pisanych pierwotnie z my- ślą o dworach i teatrach znacznie mniejszych od dzisiejszych sal koncertowych. Zespół kierowany przez utalentowanego re- żysera teatralnego Ryszarda Peryta, którego wspierała niezwy- kła wyobraźnia sceniczna Andrzeja Sadowskiego, zorganizował w 1991 roku, w dwóchsetlecie śmierci kompozytora, bezprece- densowy pierwszy festiwal mozartowski złożony z dwudziestu pięciu utworów scenicznych.

– Nazywam moją operę klubem ambasadora! – stwierdził entuzjastycznie Sutkowski, który ma wiernych widzów w war- szawskim korpusie dyplomatycznym i traktowany jest w Warsza- wie jako człowiek instytucja.

Pierwszego wieczora, który spędziliśmy w Operze Kameral- nej, Zosia, blada i jasnowłosa, włożyła na siebie krótką czarną sukienkę wieczorową i elegancki złoty łańcuszek. Festiwal miał się wkrótce stać jedną z ulubionych okazji do naszych romantycznych spotkań w Warszawie. Siedzieliśmy w małej oranżerii pośród ozdobnych figowców i portretów kompozytorów operowych, po- pijając kawę z maleńkich porcelanowych filiżanek. W tle słychać było młodych śpiewaków, którzy rozgrzewali głosy, ćwicząc gamy, popularne melodie lub fragmenty arii. Od czasu do czasu dzięki czyjejś chwilowej nieuwadze można było zobaczyć przez uchylone okno śpiewaka w kostiumie poprawiającego perukę albo sopra- nistkę nakładającą makijaż lub poprawiającą piersi w gorsecie przed podświetlonym lustrem. Skrzypek czy flecista z orkiestry ćwiczył jakiś wyjątkowo trudny fragment. Panował tu prawdziwie kameralny osiemnastowieczny nastrój.

Po raz pierwszy zetknąłem się z tym zespołem podczas wy- stawienia Lucio Silla, opery seria skomponowanej na karnawał w Mediolanie w roku 1772, kiedy Mozart miał szesnaście lat. Auto- rem libretta opowiadającego o tym nieprawdopodobnym triumfie cnoty był Giovanni di Gamerra, pisarz lubujący się w grobowcach i smętnych fabułach, który miał podobno skłonności do nekrofilii. Opera, która gromadzi w sobie najcenniejsze elementy talentu Mozarta, wciąż czeka na utalentowanego librecistę, który ujawni w pełni mroczne strony duszy kompozytora.

Orkiestra w teatrze Warszawskiej Opery Kameralnej ukryta jest pod proscenium. Z jednej strony proscenium sięga nieco dalej w głąb widowni; tu grają ukryte w półmroku klawesyn i wiolon- czela. W tym niewielkim teatrze śpiewacy wydają się ogromni, widz może śledzić najdrobniejsze nawet emocje malujące się na ich twarzach, czuć wyraźnie drżenie ich głosu. Ta bliskość pozwala wnikać w umysły postaci w wyjątkowy, niepokojący wręcz sposób. W operze Lucio Silla rola Cecylia, senatora wyjętego spod prawa przez Sullę, dyktatora Rzymu, skomponowana została dla kastrata. Tutaj wykonywał ją niezwykły sopranista Dariusz Paradowski, dysponujący głosem na tyle zbliżonym do głosu kastrata w rodzaju Farinellego, na ile jest to możliwe w dzisiejszych czasach.

Kiedy słyszy się go po raz pierwszy, głos ten wywiera niemal wstrząsające wrażenie, lecz Paradowski jest wytrawnym akto- rem o prezencji scenicznej Rudolfa Nuriejewa i nie bez powodu otrzymuje kwiaty oraz owacje należne gwieździe. We wszystkich młodzieńczych operach Mozarta znajduje się rola przeznaczona dla kastrata. W warszawskim cyklu mozartowskim poszczególne opery powiązane są ze sobą wizualnie za pomocą dekoracji, ko- stiumów i reżyserii. Głosy mogą się zmieniać, lecz ostateczny rezultat jest magiczny. Dzięki tym rzadko wystawianym dziełom oraz wyśmienitym inscenizacjom najsłynniejszych oper (Don Giovanniego, Wesela Figara, Czarodziejskiego fletu) miałem wyjątkową okazję śledzić zdumiewającą ewolucję pomysłów operowych Mozarta i rozwój jego geniuszu dramatycznego.

[Sopranista to kontratenor, który może śpiewać w skali sopranu. W wielu operach barokowych partie komponowane pierwotnie dla kastratów wykonywane są teraz przez ten wyjątkowo rzadki męski głos sopranowy. Jeszcze rzadszy „kastrat endokrynologicz- ny” różni się od sopranisty tym, że jest śpiewakiem cierpiącym na zaburzenia hormonalne, które w okresie dojrzewania zaha- mowały rozwój krtani i tym samym zmianę głosu. Tego rodza- ju śpiewak może dysponować głosem o skali, która pozwoli mu wykonać arię Królowej Nocy z opery Czarodziejski flet.]

„Brat Mozart” od wczesnej młodości miał związki z masone- rią: dopisał muzykę do masońskiego wiersza, dedykując całość le- karzowi, który wyleczył go z ospy wietrznej. Muzykę wykorzystuje się w wielu masońskich obrzędach, Mozart komponował więc dla swych „braci” przez całe życie. W 1773 roku poproszono go o stworzenie podkładu muzycznego do sztuki Thamos, Köning der Ägypten (Thamos, król Egiptu) autorstwa Tobiasa Philippa Barona von Geblera. Sztuka opowiada o masońskim konflikcie między światłem i ciemnością. Warszawska Opera Kameralna wystawiła tę sztukę połączoną z dwiema spośród późniejszych kantat ma- sońskich w Teatrze na Wyspie, w parku Łazienkowskim.

Tuż przed północą zapalono świece ustawione wzdłuż krętej ścieżki łączącej wejście do parku z teatrem. Kanał dla orkiestry znajduje się przed pasem wody oddzielającym Teatr na Wyspie (wzorowany na ruinach świątyni Jowisza w Baalbek w Libanie) od amfiteatru (wzorowanego na ruinach Herkulanum), gdzie siedzi publiczność. Sylwetki drzew odcinały się wyraźnie od gasnącego letniego nieba, szumiały liście poruszane lekkim wiatrem prze- mykającym między rozbitymi kolumnami i frontonami, w mrocz- nej tafli stawu odbijały się posągi umierającego Gala i Kleopatry, z dala dochodziły krzyki pawi siedzących na balustradach pałacu. Wszystko to tworzyło atmosferę wyjątkowej klasycznej urody.

Zaczęła się uwertura, muzyka namiętna i uduchowiona, a za- razem pełna gracji. Po chwili z mgły wyłonił się chór, półkole zakapturzonych postaci w czarnych szatach, ze srebrnymi me- dalionami na piersiach. Potem pojawili się soliści w czarnych ko- stiumach, na ramionach nieśli wielkie srebrne rzeźby mitycznych bestii rodem z Egiptu i Asyrii – skrzydlatego byka, skrzydlatego lwa, orła i ludzką głowę ze skrzydłami. Z tyłu sceny znajdowała się rzeźba złożona z armat, końskich szkieletów, kos, bębnów i obszarpanych chorągwi.

Rozpoczęła się zażarta dyskusja o wartościach moralnych z chórem niosącym cudownie groteskowe sztandary siedmiu grze- chów głównych. Na środku sceny zapłonął kocioł wypełniony og- niem, a skrzydlaty lew przysiadł za nim i zaczął śpiewać pieśń w jakimś tajemniczym języku. Mim podpalił strumień ognia, któ- ry przeciął teatr na całej szerokości, co zbiegło się z armatnim strzałem, powodującym przemianę wojennej rzeźby. Mrok, staro- żytne ruiny, wiatr w gałęziach drzew, przerażone gołębie i ostre krzyki pawi wyniosły tę scenerię masońskiej liturgii Mozarta na niezwykły duchowy poziom.

Wypiliśmy szampana pod gwiazdami z dyrektorem artystycz- nym Stefanem Sutkowskim i wyszliśmy z ciemnego parku wzdłuż pasa dogasających już świec. Wielka muzyka budzi pożądanie, domaga się powtórzenia, podobnie jak udane i głębokie życie seksualne. Takie właśnie warszawskie noce podczas festiwalu mozartowskiego pomagały mi przetrwać różne odmiany losu związane z niefortunnym projektem i nieodparcie pogłębiały mój romantyczny związek z Zosią.

For further reading from my book on Poland:

(Polish Edition)

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Carey Beebe and a David Rubio Harpsichord in Warsaw - a challenge to maintain

Click on photos to enlarge - far superior

My copy of a two manual Flemish eighteenth century instrument by the esteemed original maker and inheritor of the Ruckers tradition, Johan Daniel Dulcken (1736-1769). The instrument was made for me in 1978 in the Oxfordshire village of Duns Tew by the late great luthier and supreme maker of classical guitars, viola de gambas, chests of viols and violins David Rubio (1934 - 2000) 

The soundboard of my instrument decorated by Pauline Whitehouse for David Rubio. I had all the known species of Norfolk Island butterflies depicted on the soundboard. Norfolk Island was the Pacific Island I lived on for some years in my twenties among the descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty 

One reason I failed to attend the Diamond Jubilee in person was musical. Following my disappointment with accommodation in London I had made an appointment this weekend in Warsaw with an extraordinary phenomenon - a travelling professional harpsichord technician. As far as I know he must be the only such person in the world to approach this demanding task with the greatest stamina, enthusiasm and knowledge.

Carey Beebe is an esteemed Australian harpsichord builder who travels the world for four months of each year visiting places and instruments that do not have access to harpsichord technicians of the highest calibre. This may involve trips to Brazil, Panama, Thailand, France, Finland, New Zealand, China, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Argentina, Peru, Canada, United States and now Poland. He carries with him all the necessary tools to complete any repairs, restringing, voicing or other adjustments on site. Sometimes I feel only an Australian would have the spirit to conceive and carry out such an idea.

I have a fine and valuable copy of a two manual Flemish eighteenth century instrument by the original esteemed maker and inheritor of the Ruckers tradition, Johan Daniel Dulcken (1736-1769). The instrument was commissioned by me in 1978 in the Oxfordshire village of Duns Tew by the late great maker of guitars and luthier (superb viola da gambas and violins) David Rubio (1934-2000) and his team.  

At the time I commissioned it, the harpsichord cost as much as a small house. I gave a million English lessons in London to pay for it. The Rubio remained in my maisonette in Marylebone in London for 26 years before I  moved to Warsaw in 2004. I treasure this instrument and  play on it mainly Bach, the Couperins and Scarlatti.

The instrument desperately needed some work as little had been done of any significant order since it was originally made - a few strings replaced, some delrin plectra. One cannot allow just anyone loose on such a valuable device with a new replacement value (actually an irreplaceable instrument now) in excess of 40,000 pounds. The expense of maintenance (shipping the instrument) to another country was considerable and not justified by my limited talents. And so I had put off proper maintenence for years. Carey Beebe could manage a side trip to Warsaw from Helsinki but only over the Jubilee weekend so with some reluctance I took advantge of this. 

The work was supremely professional from beginning to end and the instrument utterly transformed over two days. It feels as it did when I first took delivery all those years ago. Key dip was adjusted, registers that were binding severely were released, much revoicing of the various choirs was done with replacement plectra and other technical points covered. It was not an inexpensive operation (although he was generous towards me in terms of costs) but as Sir Henry Royce once said 'The quality remains although the price is soon forgotten.' or words to that effect.

I was astonished that no harpsichordists in Poland showed the slightest interest in this rare visit despite knowing of it - well, it is their significant loss.

His website must be one of the most informative on harpsichords and their maintenance on the internet. He has recently delivered a copy of a Ruckers Double harpsichord to the Royal Opera House, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.


The Ruckers Double Harpsichord
2 x 8´, 1 x 4´, buff on back 8´
Stop registers worked by brass levers through nameboard
Two 56+1-note bone keyboards GG–d''' A392/A415/A440
Tapered wooden jacks with natural celcon plectra
Strung in Malcom Rose wire
Gilded rose
Soundboard painting by Diana Ford
  in style of early I Ruckers
Marbled exterior, bright mouldings
Flemish printed papers to keywell, soundboard rim & lid
Seven leg table stand in French oak
Oak music desk & lid sticks
Matching oak stool with buttoned leather seat

Commission for Royal Opera House, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

Ton Koopman directing Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra during the inaugural performance of the Carey Beebe 2011 Ruckers Double Harpsichord
Royal Opera House, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, March 10  2013


His most recent report on the restoration of an early Challis harpsichord in Honolulu (of all places!) is an amazing tale. Such instruments were constructed with a quite different philosophy to 'historical' instruments such as mine. This interests me greatly as Edward Cahill, the concert pianist subject of the present biography I am writing, was one of the first recitalists in London in 1937 to perform on a Pleyel harpsichord of similar constructional philosophy. 


And for a detailed analysis of the differences between 'Historic' and 'Revival' harpsichords:


At present there is an increasing interest in 'Revival' harpsichords of this type, particularly for recordings of contemporary harpsichord compositions. 

For a performer interested in this subject and at present recording on restored  'Revival' instruments:


We spent much of Saturday wandering in the gardens and Dworek at Chopin's birthplace at Zelazowa Wola, some 50 kms from Warsaw. We also visited the fortified church where the composer was christened at Brochow. A very pleasant conclusion to Carey's first successful visit to Warsaw.

A fascinating project was the restoration of a 1773 Kirckman harpsichord once owned by Sir Chrles Villiers Stanford.


Now the restoration is complete and here is an interesting interview with Carey and the sound of the restored instrument.


Carey Beebe's latest commissioned instrument for Pymble Ladies College 2012, Sydney Australia

The Ruckers Double Harpsichord
2 x 8´, 1 x 4´, buff on back 8´
Stop registers worked by brass levers through nameboard
Two 56+1-note reverse keyboards GG–d''' A392/A415/A440
Tapered wooden jacks with natural delrin plectra
Strung in Malcom Rose wire
Gilded rose
Soundboard painting by Diana Ford using Australian motifs
  in style of early I Ruckers
Handpainted Tavern Table Blue exterior, bright mouldings
Flemish printed papers to keywell, soundboard rim & lid interior
Latin mottos on lid interior
Trestle stand in French oak
Oak music desk & lid sticks

Commission for Pymble Ladies’ College, Sydney

The Ruckers Double Harpsichord
2 x 8´, 1 x 4´, buff on back 8´
Stop registers worked by brass levers through nameboard
Two 56+1-note reverse keyboards GG–d''' A392/A415/A440
Tapered wooden j
acks with natural delrin plectra
Strung in Malcom Rose red & yellow brass, and P-wire
Gilded rose
Soundboard painting by Diana Ford using Australian motifs
  in style of early I Ruckers
Handpainted Solider Blue exterior, bright mouldings
Flemish printed papers to keywell, soundboard rim & lid interior
Latin mottos on lid interior
Seven leg table stand in French oak
Matching stool with buttoned leather seat
Oak music desk & lid sticks

Commission for Scotch College, Melbourne