By its nature, love does not necessarily need to happen to young people. Everyone dreams about it. But when we watch a performance in which very young artists tell us about it, it becomes believable and convincing. Prof. dr hab. Ryszard Peryt, head of the Opera Institute at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw, while welcoming guests who attended the premiere performance, stressed that “Il Trespolo tutore”, a Baroque opera written by Alessandro Stradella, which is currently being staged at the Collegium Nobilium in its original language for the first time in the world since 1679, is a joint undertaking of students and graduates of the Academy of Dramatic Art, Fryderyk Chopin University of Music and Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Young were not only the performers as the performance’s director, Paweł Paszta, a former student of Ryszard Peryt, produced the performance as the practical part of his doctoral dissertation at the ADA, and the conductor was Andrea De Carlo – a long-time explorer of works by Alessandro Stradella, who works with Polish students as part of an international project and this time very devotedly conducted the Historical Instrument Orchestra of the Unit of Early Music of the FCUM. The Orchestra mainly consists of students of that Unit who, like the performers, were very committed to their attempt to convey the artistry and originality of the second opera buffa in history (after “Il Girello” by Jacopo Melanni with prologue written by none other than Stradella). The plot of the libretto by Cosimo Villifranchi refers to the structure of the commedia dell’arte. That is why the producer of the performance referred to clownish displays in Italian folk comedy, which can be seen in how each character was created. So, the opera has stage character types such as Pierrot, Colombina, Harlequin or Pulcinella, but their genre affinity is primarily marked by costumes and behaviour. In the background there is no panorama with buildings, only monochromatic canvas, so there is a reference to the makeshift theatre, which staged performances outdoors.
The scenography made by Maciej Krajewski includes a round-shaped podium where soloists show their vocal and acting skills, whereas other actors not currently on stage assist them, i.e., drop props on lines, help bring “theatre miracles” into life, and provide technical service of the performance, and even – like in Ciro (Magdalena Pikuła) during intermission – curiously observe what is happening in the audience. This intriguing change of roles made everyone realise that in theatre there are two sides observing each other.
The premiere performance had a surprising cast. The tutor Trespolo, upset by his lengthy courting addressed to the alluring Despina, finally decides to marry off his pupil Artemisia to nurse Simona. This method, hilarious but also quite obvious at the time when all women’s roles were sung by men, was extended by Paweł Paszta – this way the role of one of the Pierrots, Ciro, was performed by the charming, clever and funny Magdalena Pikuła. She easily turns from a village fool into a young man in love, but the one won the hearts of the audience was Mikołaj Zgódka in a superb costume of the old nurse Simona, a graceful and ambitious character willing to marry her former charge for money. This very gender-like treatment of a character brings even more humour into the performance because a member of the audience needs to wonder why such relationships and love situations are created.
Both female parts were performed by beautiful singers. The part of Artemisia in the premiere performance was entrusted to Paulina Tuzińska who coped with this demanding role really well. Her very lyrical voice was well-matched to the performance, in which the young singer also had to be charming and alluring. She turned out very natural. The audience also liked Marta Huptas, who managed to make her presence in the opera noticeable despite the small role of Despina. Her very interesting soprano voice was not fully exploited in the performance though as the role was simply too small. Rafał Tomkiewicz is an extremely promising Polish countertenor, and the leading role of Nino in the performance have him an opportunity to show how well he could bring out humour from a very dramatic role. The title role was performed by Andrzej Lenart, who managed really well with the task to create a character of an old man possessed by love. Additionally, he was a performance guide – as there were initial reading rehearsals shown at the end – and he felt fully responsible for the duty entrusted to him by the director.
The Historical Instrument Orchestra of the Unit of Early Music of the FCUM, despite being comprised of students, played this long opera very solemnly during lyrical fragments and vividly and joyfully during humorous ones. Thanks to Andrea de Carlo we had an opportunity to listen to music by a very original but forgotten (for many ages) composer. The musician who attracted the greatest deal of attention from the audience was Filip Zieliński playing the theorbo with a rock music band-style passion.
The audience wished Marta Kodeniec had appeared during the applause as she deserved it for the beautiful and functional costumes she made, which are a scenic addition to the performance. I encourage anyone to visit the Collegium Nobilium Theatre as it going to be an extraordinary evening full of love, joy and youthful madness – a Baroque-style yet so modern performance.
IN THE VIEWER’S EYE
The most important things in the opera is music and vocal presentations of singers. The singers did not fail. They showed astonishing tunefulness, artistry and energy. The performers are surprisingly good actors, they are in a good shape and very fit. The charming, delicate and overly innocent and subtle Artemisia (Paulina Tuzińska), who is unable to successfully confess her feelings to her tutor, Trespolo (Andrzej Lenart), a man not very attractive and much older than her and whom she loves more like a father but fails to realise it. Artemisia is touching, surprising, and in a beautiful way she lets us know the depth of her feelings expressed in her singing. Fortunately and paradoxically, Trespolo – without reciprocation – loves the intriguing, rapacious and expressive Despina (Marta Huptaś). The most noticeable character is the charming and lyrical Nino (Rafał Tomkiewicz) who is in love with Artemisia. The thrilling and talented countertenor is a funny and carefree Harlequin and at the end he turns into a sad and tragical Pierrot. Ciro (Magdalena Pikuła in a male role), whose personality transformed in an astonishing way, and nurse Simona, a very interesting woman willing to enjoy whatever life has to offer (the female role played splendidly by Mikołaj Zgódka), make the identities of the characters unobvious, whereas the narration is fickle, intriguing, ambiguous and familiarly modern.
The performance is where the high and the low are mixed. They agree, coexist. Penetrate each other. It lets us know that this is what life, the world, people and their fate look like. Director Paweł Paszta stressed these contradictions very well as in fact they complement each other: illusion and real life, stage and backstage, assistant and performing actors, sadness and joy, youth and old age, love and obligation, modernity and tradition, preparations to the staging of an opera and its final shape. Thanks to a group artistic symbiosis and united creative forces this forgotten for 250 years opera reappeared on stage. It is a pity that it will be staged at the Collegium Nobilium for such a short time. Watch it as soon as you can because it is very successful and funny. Prepared in a careful and professional way and performed with youthful fantasy and energy. It is exciting and thrilling, which encourages us to get more interested in operatic art. Go see yourselves. Good luck:)
An extraordinary event and magnificent work “Il Trespolo tutore” by Alessandro Stradella dug out by the Opera Institute, superbly and stylishly directed by Paweł Paszta, in crazy costumes by Marta Kodeniec, under artistic management by Andreai de Carlo.
Music sparkles and flows, young singers did not fail, they are great vocalists and actors, all roles are big, all well-cast, I would mostly favour Rafał Tomkiewicz – countertenor (Nino) and Paulina Tuzińska (Artemisia). Another cast tonight!
Long live the pre-Baroque opera! Viva Stradella!
Wojciech Giczkowski, Theatre for you