Opery Verdiego w polskich XIX-wiecznych przekładach

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Alina Borkowska-Rychlewska, Elżbieta Nowicka, Opery Verdiego w polskich XIX-wiecznych przekładach, Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskiego Towarzystwa Przyjaciół Nauk, 2016.


Spis treści:

Wprowadzenie ………………………………………. 7

Rigoletto ………………………………………………………. 31

Violetta (La Traviata) …………………………………………. 133

Bal maskowy …………………………………………………. 219

Don Carlos …………………………………………………….. 303

Aida …………………………………………………………… 433

Otello ………………………………………………………….. 511


Wykaz źródeł …………………………………………………. 591







Alina Borkowska-Rychlewska, Elżbieta Nowicka

Opery Verdiego w polskich XIX-wiecznych przekładach[Operas by Verdi in nineteenth-century Polish translations] (Poznań: PTPN, 2016)

Verdi’s operas began to be staged in Poland during the 1840s. The first premiere was Lombardi alla prima crociata, at the Grand Theatre (Teatr Wielki) in Warsaw, in 1848, whilst the Warsaw opera house’s nineteenth-century experiences of the great Italian composer came to a spectacular close with the premiere of Otello in 1893. In the present book, we give the librettos (plus extensive introductions) of six operasstaged in Warsaw during the second half of the nineteenth century, selected for their artistic qualities, their popularity across Europe and the keen interest shown in them by the critics:Rigoletto, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, Don Carlos, Aida, Otello. Also significant for the staging and reception of these operas were the socio-political and organisational-artistic conditions in which the Warsaw opera house functioned. During the period in question, it belonged to the theatrical body of the Grand Theatre, which in turn, together with the Variety Theatre (Teatr Rozmaitości), Theatre on the Island (TeatrnaWyspie), Orangery Theatre (Teatr w Pomarańczarni) and Summer Theatre (Teatr Letni, from 1870), formed part of the conglomerate known as the Warsaw Government Theatres (WGT; WarszawskieTeatryRządowe). The way in which the WGT was run by the Management of Drama and Music Theatres and Shows, under the aegis of the Board of Administration (essentially the Russian imperial authorities, in the person of the viceroy or governor-general), depended on the character and tastes of particular chairmen and on circumstances of a political nature. Up to 1872, when an opera stage was created in Lviv, the Opera in Warsaw was the only permanent music theatre in Polish lands; hence it serves as a fundamental reference point for recreating a picture of the ‘Polish Verdi’ during the nineteenth century. Here is Anna Wypych-Gawrońska, author of a monographic study on the Warsaw opera house:

The history of the Warsaw Opera in the years 1832–1880 attests the development on Polish soil of a new kind of music theatre, relinquishing the close link with drama theatre that was characteristic of the eighteenth century and heading towards a distinct separation from its dramatic equivalent, connected with the emergence of new conventions in theatrical output and staging.[1]

Among the many circumstances that accompanied the introduction of Verdi’s works to the Warsaw opera stage, one must stress the importance of changing conventions in performance and stage production. An important role was played in this respect by the productions of foreign companies, particularly from Italy, since the plays they performed brought not just new repertoire but also (sometimes in a watered-down, derivative form) innovations in performance and staging. Performances by Italian singers also organised – or, according to many observers, disorganised – the theatre seasons of the Polish company, depriving the Warsaw stage, for many weeks, of singers who were partly engaged in the performances by Italian artists and partly worked for that period on other stages, performed in concerts, and so on.[2]That is the broad context of socio-political, economic, cultural and artistic factors within which we should place the Polish translations of the librettos of Verdi’s operas and the productions of those works with Polish text.

Verdi’s works, like many other operas of his times, arose out of literature.Plays and novels provided opera composers with plots lines, character traits and conflicts, as is attested by the numerous examples of operatic references to works by Goethe, Schiller, Shakespeare, Dumas, Mérimée, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Scribe, Sardou, Pushkin and many other writers. We are also dealing here with a general property of nineteenth-century culture, in which it was literature that provided the fundamental body of ideas, notions and concepts to which opera also referred, frequently turning to outstanding works.Verdiwas consistent in his literary fascinations, and he not only took volumes of Schiller and Shakespeare with him on his travels, but also made their plays the subject of his works. The present book contains one translation each of librettos based on works by Schiller and Shakespeare (Don Carlos and Otello respectively); the others refer to works by Victor Hugo(Rigoletto), Alexandre Dumas (La traviata), EugèneScribe (Un ballo in maschera) and Auguste Mariette (Aida). The original texts that inspired operatic librettos were clearly produced by writers of different standing and renown, and their works vary considerably in artistic value. Although the literary original did not determine the quality of an operatic work, it did guarantee a degree of initial interest among opera-goers.[3]Despite the differences, chiefly in terms of the changing style of Verdi’s music, the plots of the six operas presented in this book, in their deep thematic structure, may be deemed similar: they all express a state of conflict between an authority and its subjects (one of the variants is a conflict within a ruling hierarchy; the authority assumes various guises, a king in Don Carlos, a father in La traviata, and so on) – a conflict that runs in parallel with – or crossed by – a story of love.The theme of power and love has existed in opera from the very dawn of the genre, and its occurrence in nineteenth-century works does not represent a new artistic or notional procedure. However, on that old, traditional canvas, opera (and literature with it) wove new patterns, by the same stroke demonstrating the dismantling or – on the contrary – the perdurance of former structures. As research into the Parisian opera stage has shown, opera after c.1830 ‘gave notice’ to the plot lines and characters that had dominated up to then. Yet it did not abandon the wish to satisfy the expectations of audiences craving lofty impressions, which it created by transferring the principal theme of power and love to other social structures and their characteristic mentality.[4]For this reason, and also on account of the aesthetic of contrast, characteristic of opera, nineteenth-century opera readily made use of effects that were proper to melodrama: it forged contrasts in plots and on the level of the reactions of the audience, which was thereby subjected to the pressure of violent emotions.Examining the six Verdi operas from this perspective, we notice also another circumstance: with the passage of time, Verdi relinquishes contemporary themes, or at least themes which the plot locates close to his times (La traviata, Un ballo in maschera), and returns to themes from more distant or (in the case of Aida) very distant history. Yet that does not signify an archaisation of the musical fabric of his works or any antiquarian tendencies. On the contrary: with Don Carlos,the composer’s musical idiom undergoes fundamental changes, and many critics were unwilling to grasp and accept the innovative character of those changes. The main accusation was a departure from the traditional Italian character of his music, which was raised immediately after the premiere, not just by Polish critics.

The ‘truly Italian’ character widely attributed to many works concerned not just composers from the Apennine Peninsula; it denoted specific stylistic traits which musicians from other nations were also capable of employing. During the 1830s, when the triumvirate of Italian opera composers comprising Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti became established in Europe, an Italian operatic idiom linked to their names and works also crystallised. According to the convictions of those times, at the very heart of Italian opera were the songfulness of cantilena and the beauty of melody, contrasted with the dramatic flair of the French and the complex orchestration of the Germans.[5]Such was the critical thinking with regard to Italian operatic music at the moment when the first Verdi operas began to appear on the Warsaw stage. Verdi himself was initially seen as a faithful executor of the artistic principles of Italian opera, so the staging of his early works aroused genuine enthusiasm among Warsaw critics. However, over the course of a few decades during the second half of the nineteenth century, changes occurred in the approach to Italian opera – as well as to German and French opera. One gains some idea of those changes from considerations of national style in music dating from the 1860s, in which the accent fell on the significance of the inner energy of a given culture – on its ‘spirit’. Such a view is attested, for example, by lengthy remarks concerning the national character of drama published in Ruch Muzyczny, edited by the eminent music critic Józef Sikorski:

They [advocates of national character in drama] are merciless and unjust in this respect towards music […]. No one demanded of Verdi, Weber or Auber that they be national composers in their homeland; perhaps because that attribute was ascribed to them apriori, in the knowledge that every composer writes in the spirit of his nation. With us [in Polish lands], those listening to their works explain them to their own advantage, saying ‘this is Italian music, German, French …’, without knowing what they mean by it. In that way, theysimply recite like a rosary and enumerateschools, in the assumption that the spirit of the nation also follows the school. We will say a few words on that subject at the proper time; today, we merely make so bold as to maintain that Italians often write in German, just as the French or the Germans write in Italian or French. That is because a school, especially nowadays, is at most a method for representing ideas,but not their kind; not so much the spirit of music, but rather its form.[6]

The author goes on to question the defining of Italian music in terms of melody, French music in terms of rhythm, and German music in terms of harmony that was widely adopted during the first decades of the century, rightly demonstrating that this exhausts the whole set of components of music, essentially closing the path to composition for the representatives of other nations. Yet the conviction of the natural nationality of the music of particular composers, rooted in the Romantic aesthetic and philosophy and expressed at the beginning of the 1860s, affirmed the evident ‘Italianness’ of Verdi’s operas, experienced by Warsaw audiences through productions of Rigoletto (It. 1853, Pol. 1859) and La traviata (It. 1856, Pol. 1864). Despite objections that Warsaw critics were already levelling at him (more on this in the commentaries), Verdi was still generally considered to be a composer faithful to the idiom of Italian opera, in two specific conceptions of musical nationality, understood as a school and as the spirit of a nation. So the image was that of an artist deeply rooted in the Italian operatic tradition, a continuator of the art forged by his great predecessors (and rivals): Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Consequently, the two composers named by Sikorski in Ruch Muzyczny as representing different schools and a different national spirit, Weber and Auber, posed no threat to Verdi; that is to say, they did not disturb the characteristic qualities of his compositions, based on his individual talent and the model of the operatic art established on the Apennine Peninsula. So Verdi safely functioned on the Warsaw stage alongside other composers – French and German – for as long as he remained faithful to the style that was characteristic of him. The situation changed with the staging in Warsaw of other titles, La forza del destinoand especially Don Carlos, which, in the critics’ opinion, painted a new image of Verdi: he was now a composer who had abandoned the form of opera which was proper to himself and to his culture, succumbing to the foreign, and so non-Italian, influences of Giacomo Meyerbeer, Jacques Halévy and – first and foremost – Richard Wagner.[7]Highly significant in terms of the evolution of assessments of the Italian composer is the content of a special Verdi issue of Echo Muzyczne, TeatralneiArtystycznefrom 1889. The series of articles by prominent critics and musicians portray Verdi as a composer who affords equal solicitude to the singing, orchestration and dramatic form of his works. And more than that, since in the recollections of singers and musicians who worked with him he comes across as a rehearsal master, a director, and a designer of costumes and stage movement. It is not surprising, therefore, that the other great figure of contemporary European music known for the care he took over the integral preparation of productions of his works on the operatic stage was also present in the articles published in that jubilee edition,namely Wagner. His music dramas began entering Polish stages during the 40s, in Warsaw, and that process was subject to various changes. It also helped shape views on national music and influenced the reception of Verdi’s operas.The parallels and contrasts between the works of these two great composers (Verdi and Wagner) that were shown by the critics did not possess the significance of a founding act for national Polish opera – that task had already been accomplished by Stanisław Moniuszko, and before him by Karol Kurpiński – but they did describe, more or less accurately, its gravitation towards different styles. In France, by contrast, one of the principal strands to discussions of Wagner and Verdi concerned the relations between ‘old’ and ‘new’ art (highly significant in this respect was the fervent, albeit isolated, opinion of Baudelaire), whilst in Germany, for obvious reasons, the discussion was shaped and proceeded in yet another way.[8]

In the case of Verdi, as clearly emerges from the commentaries included in this volume, the pivotal work was Don Carlos, immediately from the time of its Paris premiere. In connection with this opera, the critics began to doubt in the longevity of the composer’s strongest suits, namely his ability to create beautiful melodies and ‘dramatic force’, and the organic connection between his music and the ‘brightness of the Italian sky’. Those fears were laid to rest by Aida, widely received as a masterwork, and also as evidence of the composer’s new creative path, making skilful use of new achievements in orchestration. The overriding sense, already articulated by Italian critics, was that ‘the old and new Verdi merge in admirable fashion’. At the same time, the conviction was expressed that Verdi was an artistic titan compared to the whole of the ‘Italian school’, one who could no longer be called simply a composer of lovely melodies or ‘dramatic force’ alone. That conviction strengthened under the sway of Otello – the work which, in the opinion of foreign and Polish critics, marked a pinnacle on Verdi’s path to developing new techniques in instrumentation and to achieving a new ‘dramatic’ musical language. Otello was the opera in which Verdi distanced himself from the ‘school’ understood as a codified set of techniques. To some extent, he proved close to Wagner, but at the same time he remained wholly original.

The Verdi operas staged in Warsaw were most often given two premieres. The first was in Italian, performed by a guest troupe from Italy. Usually soon afterwards came the premiere with the libretto in Polish; the Polish versions were produced by translators highly experienced in writing their own librettos and plays. From our present-day perspective, staging operas with the libretto translated into the native tongue may seem artistically unjustified, yet it should be remembered that nineteenth-century theatres across Europe staged operatic works with texts in the native language.[9]The postulate of making the text comprehensible seems quite obvious, yet it was not the idea of accessibility that prompted the decision to translate librettos. So what was it?

At the beginning of the century, in the times of Elsner and Kurpiński, the native character of an operatic work was defined through language. In those days, translating a foreign libretto was done in order to ‘domesticate’ the opera, and at the same time it offered the possibility of honing one’s skills for the benefit of one’s own, original librettos.The political situation and cultural changes during the second half of the nineteenth century cast a network of new meanings onto that state of affairs, and the demands placed on opera writers were redefined. At first, particularly in the wake of the repressions that followed the defeat of the January Uprising, which affected Polish culture and language, many activities were attempted to strengthen the presence of Polish works on the stage, including dramas. Thus the translations of foreign operas in general, including the librettos of works by Verdi, may be placed, up to the 70s, among superficial procedures aimed at maintaining not just the language, but also, more generally, the native character of Warsaw theatres. Translations of opera librettos also provided an obvious argument for casting Polish singers in those operas, which given the lengthy ‘Italian seasons’ at the National Theatre (Teatr Narodowy) afforded Polish artists a chance to make a name for themselves on the stage. What is more, it also created the possibility for them to take part in events that rivalled the Italian opera companies, to measure up to the same artistic challenges, as well as stimulating ingenuity in the areas of stage and decoration design. The opera-going public, meanwhile, received a richer repertoire, since not only could it see and hear previously known works in its native tongue, but it obtained a basis on which to compare and appraise. Translations of Verdi’s librettos also fell within the scope of wider discussion in the press concerning the translation of texts for singing. Among the most important was Józef Sikorski’s opinion in Ruch Muzyczny in 1861. According to Sikorski, the translation of a libretto should be the crowning moment in the efforts and abilities of translators, honing their skills initially by translating the lyrics of songs.

So in the present-day repertoire, a Polish devotee of song can to some extent do without foreign music and foreign language. The latter should no longer take the place of the national tongue, since that would be symptomatic of a dwindling sense of nationality. The same is not true of the music, however: its language is universally comprehensible, and there are plenty of unfamiliar, but worthwhile, vocal, dramatic and salon works written in it. Already today, it would be worth entrusting the preparation of the former to gifted individuals, so that they might not work subsequently in haste, since the translation of an operatic libretto represents a huge undertaking, if it is to be fittingly done.[10]

The commentaries accompanying the librettos in the present tome reveal one more phenomenon. Beginning with the translation and staging in Polish of Don Carlos, the critics’ comments on the actual translation – clearly present in the case of Rigoletto or La traviata – become less important, or even disappear altogether. That does not mean that the translations were of little value; it rather indicatesa weakening of the desire to ‘domesticate’ foreign operas through language. This was linked not so much to abandoning ‘domesticity’ on the stage as with a sense that the desire for native opera had been fulfilled (that was how the output of Moniuszko was perceived) and that consequently Verdi’s ‘domesticated operas’ in the 70s and later, so Don Carlos and Aida (the translation of Otello functioned primarily as a literary text, since that work was performed in Italian), were described rather from the perspective of vocal performance and the production itself. Already in the times of Elsner and Kurpiński, observers had stressed the difficulty in satisfactorily ‘setting words to the music’ in an opera libretto, and a translation only compounded the difficulty. Producing a translation of an opera libretto that was adequate in respect to the original in terms of meaning and the prosodic features of the language was the greatest challenge taken on by translators. Another matter was obtaining – through the theatre management or the translator himself – the original texts. This involved not just difficulties of an organisational and financial nature, but also, in the case of Verdi, difficulties with establishing the basic form of the original. The problem is obviously much broader and concerns also a great many other works that acquired their ultimate form, be it due to the loss of the score, the composer’s failure to complete a work or – on the contrary – the preparation of many different versions, essentially through performance praxis. The multitude of versions, which in effect created the dual impression of the work’s incompleteness and overcompleteness, caused difficulties for translators and artists alike; it also posed serious difficulties for the authors of the commentaries included in this book. Yet what has perhaps presented, and continues to present, a problem with regard to the ‘literary’, textual approach to a libretto and its translation opens up further meanings to the ‘yoke of the text’ for an opera, since the libretto, in its unstable, changeable and sometimes – in performance – multilingual form is a radical realisation of postulates for transcending the dichotomy of text and visual representation. [11]

[1] Anna Wypych-Gawrońska, Warszawskiteatroperowy w latach 1832–1880[The Warsaw opera house 1832–1880] (Częstochowa, 2005), 9;the author adopts 1880 as the cut-off point on account of the opening in that year of a separate operetta stage.

[2]‘Under the presidency of Mukhanov, thestaggioniitalianiwere held during the best period for theatre – the carnival period; the Italian guests most often left Warsaw towards the end of Lent, although in 1866, for example, although the “last shows” had been announced before the Easter holidays, the company stayed until May’. Ibid, 49.

[3]It goes without saying that each of the originals has its own sources, and librettists also added elements from other thematic areas; more on this subject can be found in the separate commentaries.

[4]See the results of research into opera and bourgeois culture in France around the mid nineteenth century in Anselm Gerhard, Die Verstädterung der Oper: Paris und das Musiktheater des 19. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart, 1992).

[5]The fact that this way of situating Italian composers with regard to the operas of other nations was widespread is attested also by the music criticism of other lands; cf. Eva Mertens, LibrettoȕbersetzungimgesellschaftlichästhetischenWandel(Vienna, 2011), pp.54–60.

[6]Ruch Muzyczny, 1861/52.

[7]The constant presence in the Grand Theatre’srepertoire of works by Halévy, Meyerbeer and Auber (as well as Gounod and, in part, Wagner) has been pointed out by Anna Wypych-Gawrońska (Warszawskiteatroperowy, 77 ff.), so it is not surprising that those were the works with which Verdi’s operas were compared. Discussion of national schools and spirits also concerned the Italian and French methods of performance, and, although the French school was esteemed, it was Italian singing methods that were most recognisable and most easily disseminated (ibid, 142).

[8]Mertens, Librettoȕbersetzung.


[10]‘Tekstpolski do muzykizagranicznej’ [The Polish text to foreign music], Ruch Muzyczny, 1861/44.

[11] See W. B. Worthen’sDrama: Between Poetry and Performance (Oxford, 2010),inspirational in this respect.