The forgotten operatic works of Stanisław Moniuszko from the Berlin and Vilnus periods: from preserved sources to contemporary performances

Publikuota: 2019-06-10 Autorius: Grzegorz Zieziula, Poland
The forgotten operatic works of Stanisław Moniuszko from the Berlin and Vilnus periods: from preserved sources to contemporary performances

Dr. Grzegorz Zieziula, polonist, musicologist, lecturer of the Institute of Art at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw


In most of the available studies, the detailed narrative about the artistic achievements of Stanisław Moniuszko practically starts from the Warsaw premier of Halka on 1 January 1858. Meanwhile, as early as in the 1840s, the composer had already worked very intensively in the field of musical theatre. It is difficult to determine why after receiving a position of music director of Warsaw opera, Moniuszko himself was not interested in public presentation, publication or even collection, integration and archiving of his earliest stage works.

Musical theatre of the young Moniuszko between 1838 and 1842:
facts, guesses, lacunae and question marks

A separate problem today is the lack of a detailed study on the history of musical theatre in Vilnius which would incorporate all of Moniuszko's stage works written and performed in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania before his move to Warsaw. We still lack complete information pertaining to rudimentary facts, such as the daily dates of premieres, a list containing the names of actors cast in respective performances, or the number (and place) of performances.

As part of this paper, I will limit the scope of my reflections to the earliest period of Moniuszko's operatic work, spanning from 1838 to 1842, starting from the German-language "komische Oper", Der Schweizerhütte, which was recently discovered by me, to Nowy Don Kiszot (The New Don Quixote). As can be seen from the presented table (see Table 1) in less than four years, the composer completed 7 operatic scores. Today, their materials have not been preserved in all cases, and if they have survived in the form of non-authorised copies, we cannot always be sure that they are fully correspondent with the unavailable original and authorised versions (which are usually irretrievably lost).

Table 1. Moniuszko's operatic works from 1838 to 1842.

Regardless of their diversity in terms of genre, vaudeville works noticeably dominate among the titles listed here. As a hybrid genre, the Polish vaudeville absorbed elements of the operatic form (such as full-size overtures and virtuoso arias) as early as in the days of Józef Elsner and Karol Kurpiński. Therefore, in Moniuszko's early operatic works, both the orchestra and the performers of the main roles had to demonstrate an appropriate level of musical and vocal competences.

Stories in libretti: unknown sources of inspirations and surprising literary prototypes

Moniuszko's Vilnius operatic works differ from their Warsaw counterparts not only in their genre preferences, but also in the disparate types of stories taken up in the libretti. The composer's only real collaborator who actively participated in his operatic works was his contemporary, Oskar Korwin-Milewski. Even the initial survey of the literary sources, prototypes and contexts of librettos from the Vilnius period open our eyes to how multi-layered the issue is (see Table 2).

The indicatively presented state of preservation of musical and literary sources (see the last two columns in Table 1) alone hints at the scale of difficulties that arise when making attempts at a contemporary stage resurrection of these works. Problems are difficult to avoid even if we have access to the score and full text of the libretto. In the case of genres combining musical passages with the spoken dialogues, such as comic opera and vaudeville, one major challenge is to merge the score (which contains only the musical numbers) with the libretto (which includes the full literary texte of the piece along with spoken dialogues, stage directions that are not present in the orchestral score). I had the opportunity to discover that in practice as in 2016, two enthusiasts of Moniuszko's early works, stage director Roberto Skolmowski and conductor Stanisław Rybaczyk, both associated with the Academy of Music in Wrocław, invited me as a scientific consultant to cooperate in their ambitious project of preparing the performances of four of Moniuszko’s early stage work:

1. Nowy Don Kiszot, czyli Sto szaleństw, krotochwila w 3 aktach, libretto by Aleksander Fredro, musical direction by S. Rybarczyk, directed by R. Skolmowski, score prepared by Dr Andrzej Wolański and Dr Grzegorz Wierzba, premiered at Academy of Music in Wrocław on 14 Dec 2017[3].

2. Kramaniol, albo Francuzi lubią żartować, komedio-opera w 2 aktach wierszem i prozą, libretto by Emmanuel Théaulon, Philippe Auguste-Alfred Pittaud de Forges and Ernest Jaime (translated into Polish by Oskar Korwin-Milewski), musical direction and direction as above, score prepared by Maciej Prochaska, premiered in Teatr pod Blachą in Kudowa-Zdrój on 24 Aug 2018 (56th International Moniuszko Festival)[4].

3 and 4. Die Schweizerhütte, komische Oper in 2 Acten, libretto by Carl Blum

Nocleg w Apeninach, operetka w 1 akcie, libretto by Aleksander Fredro

musical direction direction and direction as above, score prepared by Maciej Prochaska, premiered in the Warsaw Chamber Opera on 16 Nov 2018.

(*) the vocal cast of performances 1 and 2 consisted vocal and acting majors from the Academy of Music in Wrocław; perfomances 3 and 4 starred vocalists of the Warsaw Chamber Opera.

Scrupulous work as well as musical and theatrical intelligence allowed the reconstruction group form Wrocław to prepare the first ever historically and musicologically informed reconstructions of these works. Experience earned in practice provides a basis for the hypothesis that the orchestral score of a vaudeville work was not subject to such rigorous requirements as an operatic orchestral score. Vaudeville is only given its final shape during stage adaptation, becoming an orderly and logical whole that combines theatre and music in the form of a play.

Directing and conducting interpretations (sometimes even overinterpretations) are a side effect of these pioneering reconstruction and performative endeavours, and may of course raise a number of doubts. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that, due to the incompleteness of musical and literary sources and the lack of detailed press reports from the first opening nights, Moniuszko's works from the Vilnius period in their original form shall forever remain beyond our reach. Therefore any reconstructions will retain the status of a more or less probable hypothesis.


[1] Literary prototypes indicated by Sviatlena M. Niemahaj.

[2] The second and last of possible literary contexts are presented according to Z. Jędrychowski.

[3] Nowy Don Kiszot [The New Don Quixote] was recorded and made available online to all interested audiences on YouTube (

[4] A video from the perfomance in Kudowa-Zdrój is available online on YouTube (

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