An excellent buffa from ages ago


An excellent buffa from ages ago

Il Trespolo tutore, directed by Paweł Paszta, The Opera Institute – Collegium Nobilium Theatre of the Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw

Opera buffa was created by Italians and one of the first operas of that genre was written by Alessandro Stradella (1639–1682), an unknown composer whose works are unperformed not just in Poland. Suffice to say that the premiere performance prepared by young people from Warsaw’s three artistic institutions of higher education (Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Academy of Fine arts and Academy of Dramatic Art) was the world premiere of the original version of the work written 340 years ago, entitled Il Trespolo tutore (Trespolo the Tutor).

That was done as part of the Opera Institute, which was created, founded and which has been run by Ryszard Peryt at the Academy of Dramatic Art. This is the way how diploma exams in opera directing are held once a year. This year’s Trespolo came even higher – formally speaking, it was a defence of a doctorate in the field of directing of Paweł Paszta whose supervisor was Jarosław Kilian. Here Paszta used his theatre and teaching-related experience, which was already quite substantial. He skilfully combined the style of early Baroque buffa with modern attributes, thanks to which he preserved the youthful natural feel of the performers. They remained free in the precisely planned movement and situational patterns. They clearly accepted the grotesque humour of the whole performance as their own. Paszta was supported by Maciej Krajewski from the AFA and Marta Kodeniec, designers of thrifty scenography and costumes which were insanely fanciful and colourful as the reference to theatrical symbols: crinolines, wigs and faces with make-up. 

The title character, Trespolo (Andrzej Lenart) flaunted his huge flabby belly and… dull face noticeable behind modern-looking glasses. It was as if he was a figure taken straight from the commedia dell’arte, just like the clownish and ubiquitous Ciro, the embodiment of Harlequin. The petite Magdalena Pikuła giggled mimically, emerged from the trapdoor, swung on a rope, leaned out of a balcony, or hung on the hoist throughout all intermission. She was a twin character of Nino but he, despite concise and light duos sung with her (only duos in the opera), was her total opposite. Slow, sorrowful like our Albin from Maiden Vows, Rafał Tomkiewicz impressed the audience in his spectacular arias. One combined tears and laughter, another expressed fury, and the young countertenor differentiated these affects with his voice, glance and gestures. The old Simona was portrayed with bravado by Mikołaj Zgódka: he treaded on heels, waved his skirt, exposed the attached bosom. Equally expressive and – in addition to that – endowed with a beautiful soprano voice was Artemisia played by Paulina Tuzińska – she strode hesitantly, carried a heap of frills and white pointy hair, stuck out her bottom. Despina (Marta Huptas) was charming and wore a quite unique dress, which was a folded cage with birds. 

Everyone addressed their feelings to wrong people. Their courtship and distress took place on a round-shaped podium they stepped on from behind the curtain. The intrigue entangled the wealthy Trespolo. His pupil Artemisia who was in love with him dictated him the letter revealing her feelings but he failed to notice that he himself was the one these words were addressed to. He had an absurd idea to marry her off to Simona, so there followed the brilliantly played deliberations of a funny woman about the chances for a relationship with another woman. Slightly dirty, yes, but compared to today’s common obscenities they should be perceived as sophisticated… The old theatre obliterated gender identity, women would play men’s roles and the other way round. What is more, the convention of the 17th century entertainment – and Trespolo was written for the Carnival – made such costumes an element of humour. The lyrics were displayed above the stage – the text translated by Katarzyna Otczyk-Marcelli included a few inserted words signalling the reference to modern times. Vocal students from the FCUM, well-trained by their professors, sang not only in the difficult Baroque technique but also characteristically, and this type of singing additionally emphasised the kinds of characters they portrayed.

Music supervision of the performance was entrusted to Artur Stefanowicz. This renowned countertenor, valued soloist on European stages, now teacher at the FCUM, invited Andrea de Carlo for the staging of Il Trespolo tutore. The Italian conductor is tempted by forgotten forks. He carries out The Stradella Project, he was the first person ever to record his oratorios, serenade and opera La Doriclea (and these albums were available for purchase at the Collegium Nobilium). At his disposal he had an ensemble of historical instruments from the FCUM extended with guests (even from Poznań); its members were such Baroque music virtuosi as Justyna Rekść-Raubo (viola da gamba) or Lilianna Stawarz interchangeably with Krzysztof Garstka (harpsichord). Andrea de Carlo did not have an easy task. It was not Stradella’s creative output but his biography that attracted attention. He started off as a pageboy, incited scandals in Rome, fled to Venice where he had a very passionate affair with an upper-class lady, found shelter in a monastery, was beaten up in Turin, and murdered in Genoa.  A friend saved his music scores none of which was published. The composer even became a hero of Friedrich von Flotow’s opera simply entitled Alessandro Stradella (1844). For that reason, his old music scores needed to be adjusted for practical use. 

Andrea de Carlo ensured the very high level of performance. He showed that Stradella’s plot developed swiftly, arias were not exaggerated, and sounds followed words. But these were the times before Bach, Händel or Vivaldi. And it gave a compelling impression that Stradella’s theatrical imagination was richer than musical one, as if he was not entirely able to find means to express all operatic follies he had intended. But it is great that thanks to this joint effort of artistic youth and their professors – tutores – from three institutions – Stradella’s talent rose from the ashes of the past and shone in Warsaw in its full glory. It is good to know the beginning of an important phenomenon in culture. Together with Il Trespolo tutore, an new opera buffa was born.


Małgorzata Komorowska