Władysław Żeleński



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Opera in three acts
Libretto: Ludomił German after Balladyna by Juliusz Słowacki
In the original Polish

‘I prefer silence to music,’ Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński remarked in his Słówka [A Word or Two]. Does this have anything to do with the person of his father, composer Władysław Żeleński? We cannot say for sure. Władysław was expected to become a successor to Moniuszko. He did, but as a teacher of harmony and counterpoint at the Warsaw Conservatoire and not Poland’s national composer. However, his Goplana is a very fine piece, its lyricism showing affinity with Moniuszko’s works. Żeleński wove Polish motifs into the music: the polonaise, kujawiak, mazurka and oberek. He and Ludomił German, who based the libretto on the text of Słowacki’s Balladyna, made this almost Shakespearian drama more like a fairy tale. The protagonist is a goddess of the lake, a fantasy character with a lyrical coloratura voice. However, the tale retains its cruelty: there are three corpses and evil reigns. Director Janusz Wiśniewski has blended everything into the very distinctive world of his rich imagination. His original productions: Panopticum à la Madame Tussaud, Koniec Europy [The End of Europe] and Walka karnawału z postem [The Fight between Carnival and Lent] brought a new tone to Polish theatre in the 1980s. 


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    Act I and II

    We are in a valley along which pilgrims are travelling. The sun does not shine here, and God is far, far away. The travellers are people of all races, classes and nationalities, adults and children, living and dead.

    They are on their way to the devilish nymph Goplana to ask her for a moment’s relief from their purgatorial suffering. The demonic queen of Lake Gopło emerges from the water’s surface and tells her servants Skierka and Chochlik about how she fell in love with a village boy who tumbled into her lake the previous winter. She wanted to keep him at her side. She knew the boy would die if he stayed underwater. When she saw a hand coming from above to rescue him, she let him go. Listening to their mistress’s story, Skierka and Chochlik realize she is talking about Grabiec, a stable boy who is clandestinely meeting with Balladyna, the daughter of an impoverished gentlewoman.

    Grabiec appears in his boat. He sings of the appeal of a simple rural life and his love for Balladyna. Intoxicated by his presence, Goplana offers him anything he might desire if only he will stay with her. Grabiec turns her down, not mincing his words. He finds the devilish nymph repulsive. He flees. Chochlik promises to get rid of Balladyna and win Grabiec for his mistress.

    Meanwhile, Prince Kirkor rides by the lake on his way back from war with his friend and servant Kostryn the knight and other soldiers. He is tormented by melancholy and anxiety. He sees a swallow and follows it, singing a song about his longing for pure love. The bird leads him to the Widow and her two daughters. One of them is Balladyna, a dark-haired beauty and Grabiec’s beloved. The girl makes a huge impression not only on Kirkor but mainly on Kostryn, who immediately recognizes her as a dark kindred spirit. The other one is Alina. The prince cannot stop marvelling at the sisters’ noble beauty, Balladyna’s devotion and Alina’s artlessness. He is unable to choose between them. Chochlik whispers to the Widow to have her daughters take jugs in the morning and go raspberry picking. The one who first brings a hundred raspberries will be Kirkor’s wife. The Widow suggests this strange idea to the prince. Alina, watched by Chochlik, prays for success in the following day’s undertaking.

    Balladyna slips away to meet Grabiec. They both fall asleep in his boat in the middle of the lake. Skierka and Chochlik rouse the boy from his sleep and lead him to their mistress. Rejected once again, Goplana turns Grabiec into a willow.

    Balladyna is awoken by Alina, who is holding a jug filled with raspberries. Balladyna is angry with herself, especially since her sister brags about her victory. She reaches for a knife and kills Alina. When she returns home she lies to her mother that Alina has eloped with a lover from the village. A mark the colour of berries and blood appears on Balladyna’s forehead. Kirkor takes her to his castle.

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    Act III

    Balladyna is alone in the castle. Kirkor has gone away, leaving the estate and his wife in Kostryn’s care. The woman analyses what has happened and decides there is no turning back, she has to „follow destiny’s path”.

    Kostryn enters. Balladyna sounds out his soul and opens up to him, allowing him to show his feelings. A procession of guests is approaching the castle. The princess asks Kostryn to help her receive them at a banquet. She is left alone, but her mother soon appears to tell her a dream in which she had a visit from Alina in a bloodstained white dress. Seeing Balladyna’s reaction and her unwillingness to show her mother the mysterious stain on her forehead, the Widow realizes that her daughters were in a sororicidal fight.

    Grabiec appears at the banquet. He is changed, accompanied by a strange retinue that also includes Skierka and Chochlik. Balladyna does not recognize her former lover in the prince from a distant land. Grabiec sings, revealing his identity to the princess and telling her that as a willow he witnessed her crime. Terrified, Balladyna orders Kostryn to poison the guest. The knight proposes a toast in the honour of Grabiec, who drinks from the poisoned cup and dies.

    Kirkor enters. The situation he sees rouses his anger. Balladyna accuses Kostryn of having violated her virtue and poisoned the guest.

    The Widow arrives, exposing her daughter to the prince as a murderess and pointing to the band on Balladyna’s forehead as proof of the crime. Everyone demands that the princess take off the tiara concealing the mark. As Balladyna uncovers her forehead, she is hit by a bolt of lightning sent down by the angry Goplana. The girl dies.

    Krzysztof Knurek

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    Act III

    The temple

    In the shadow of the Great Buddha, a bronze idol dances as the High Brahmin and the priests prepare for the wedding of Gamzatti and Solor. The betrothed couple enter, and the bayadères perform a ritual candle dance round them, reminiscent of the Sacred Fire burning outside the temple. The Rajah, Gamzatti and Solor dance, but Solor is haunted by the vision of Nikiya, which is visible only to him. During the dance, a basket of flowers identical to the one given to Nikiya mysteriously appears, and Gamzatti, terrified and consumed with guilt, urges her father to complete the wedding ceremony. The High Brahmin performs the ceremony on the steps of the altar, but Solor cannot force himself to say the vows. The infuriated gods destroy the temple and bury everyone under its ruins. The spirits of Nikiya and Solor are reunited in eternal love.


  • Patron of Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Media patron of the premiere

  • Logo Viva
  • Media patrons of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Co-organiser of the cocktail reception

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