A Miracle, or Cracovians and Highlanders

Jan Stefani

Vaudeville in four acts  
Libretto: Wojciech Bogusławski
World premiere: 1 March 1794
Premiere of this production: 13 March 2015

In the original Polish 

‘The personal politics prevailing in the opera world is hard,’ wrote Wisława Szymborska, a Nobel prize winning poet, having read Józef Kański’s Opera Guide. ‘The soprano should be the daughter of a bass, the wife of a baritone and the lover of a tenor. (…) A baritone lover is rare, and it is best if he finds himself a mezzo. Mezzos, in turn, should be careful with tenors – fate usual condemns them to be ‘the other woman’, or the soprano’s best friend, which is an even sadder position’. Is that the case in Cracovians and Highlanders? One must see for oneself, while watching the show. Wojciech Bogusławski, the author of the libretto, was a one-man band: actor, opera singer, director, writer, playwright, promoter of Enlightenment ideas, freemason – he earned the rank of master in the Temple of Wisdom lodge. György Spiró made him into a protagonist of his play. For his contributions to the Polish theatre Bogusławski is called its Father. The world premiere of Cracovians and Highlanders took place on the eve of the Kościuszko Uprising at the National Theatre in Warsaw. After 1795 it was staged many times in Lviv, then after a time it became forgotten and then rediscovered by Leon Schiller in the 1930s. The music for this comic opera, or vaudeville, was composed by Jan Stefani. Czech-born and Italian-educated, he combined the classical style with elements of Polish folk music, including the dances – the Polonaise, the Krakowiak, the Polka and the Mazurka.


Participants of Opera Academy, the young talents development programme 
Opera Academy’s baroque orchestra 
Artos Youth Choir

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    A Miracle, or Cracovians and Highlanders: a special production of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

    Wojciech Bogusławski’s A Miracle, or Cracovians and Highlanders set to music by Jan Stefani is considered to be the first Polish national opera. Written and staged shortly before the third partition of Poland (1795), it employed a light-hearted musical form and brilliant text to carry a very clear patriotic message, so important to Polish audiences at that time. Today, when this aspect has only historical significance, Cracovians and Highlanders is still an attractive opera show with a universal message stemming from folk wisdom, as well as a rewarding learning material for young performers.

    It is precisely with them in mind that the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera is preparing to put on a new production of this opera in 2015. Most of the cast will be young, talented singers who participate in or have graduated from Opera Academy, a programme run by the Teatr Wielki since 2009 to support the professional development of young opera artists, mainly singers. Opera Academy offers its students a chance to take part in regularly organised workshops and master classes; individual voice, acting and language mentoring; as well as continual professional support. Participants can also benefit from workshops held by members of the European Network of Opera Academies, or ENOA, which gathers eleven cultural institutions from ten countries. The Teatr Wielki joined the network in 2009. 

    The new staging of Cracovians and Highlanders is special because its musical setting is supposed to be as close to the 18th century original. An orchestra will be put together specially for the production comprising young musicians who play period instruments or contemporary copies. The ensemble will work under the direction of Władysław Kłosiewicz, Grzegorz Lalek and Tytus Wojnowicz. Władysław Kłosiewicz, a leading interpreter of early music, is the musical director of the whole production and will teach the young musicians the arcana of period performance. His arrangement of the score draws on source materials, including Jan Stefani’s manuscripts.

    Besides a longer rehearsal period than is customary, work on the production will include workshops for the singers and instrumentalists conducted by leading teachers and artists specialising in historically informed performance. The singers will be able to take advantage of vocal consultations, lessons in elocution, acting, and stage movement. Workshops for musicians will include playing period instruments and learning how to get period sound out of contemporary instruments.

    The show will be directed by Jarosław Kilian, the sets and costumes will be designed by Izabela Chełkowska, while the choreographer is Emil Wesołowski.

    Set to premiere at the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera’s small stage, the show is being designed to tour across the country, including places without an opera house or a large theatre stage. Performances will be preceded by talks on the work’s historical and social contexts, its performance tradition, and reception from its original premiere in 1794 until today.

    The Warsaw premiere will be preceded by an extensive educational programme for adults and young people. As well as providing a background for the watching the show, the programme will celebrate 250 years of public theatre in Poland. 


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