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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » March 1, 2013
Destination Warsaw
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Dramatic History
March 1, 2013   
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Anywhere you look in Warsaw there is a history lesson in the making. The Wielki (Grand) Theater and National Opera House complex is one such example. The magnificent Grand Theater building standing today in the historic Theater Square in Warsaw was totally rebuilt and expanded after the Germans bombed and burned it down during World War II. It took a long time to rebuild as there were many other building priorities after the war to house all the displaced Varsovians after the Germans razed the city to the ground in retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

The Grand Theater building was finally completed at the end of 1965. It is said that it was then one of the most imposing and best-equipped state-of-the-art theaters in Europe and had the biggest theater stage in the world. It has beautiful interiors, crystal chandeliers and a spatial foyer together with huge marble columns and beautiful mosaics. The Stanisław Moniuszko Auditorium seats nearly 2,000 people and is the primary stage for operas, ballet and concerts. The Emil Młynarski Auditorium seats 250 people. The Theater Museum is located in the former main-floor ballrooms. There are two statues in front of the building—one of Wojciech Bogusławski, the father of the Polish National Theater and Stanisław Moniuszko, the father of the Polish National Opera.

But the history of Theater Square, where the building of the Grand Theater and Opera House stands today, goes back to the days when Poland’s King Jan III Sobieski won the battle of Vienna against the Turks, thus saving Europe from the onslaught of Islam in 1683. His loving wife, Marysieńka, built a large commercial center, called Marywil, to commemorate the king’s victory. It was built at the end of the 17th century and consisted of a pentagonal baroque building modeled after the Place des Vosges and Place Dauphine in Paris. It contained shops and merchants’ houses, while the central square was used as a market. The building also served as a royal residence. In 1738 the complex was bought by the Załuski family and around 1744 it was converted by Antonina Zamoyska into a monastery. Before the entire complex was demolished in 1825 to make room for the new Grand Theater, an additional four large houses were built in the marketplace and later the monks moved out and the building was converted into housing quarters.

For more than 170 years, the Grand Theater in Warsaw has been the largest opera and ballet institution in Poland. Built to provide a new venue for the existing opera, ballet and drama companies in Warsaw, it was completed in 1833 in the neoclassical style by Italian architect Antonio Corazzi. The building was remodeled several times. Until 1918, while Poland was partitioned by foreign powers, it continued to fulfill an important cultural and political role in producing works by many Polish composers and choreographers, thereby upholding the tradition and cultural heritage of a country that had been wiped off the map for over 123 years.

Stanisław Moniuszko, several of whose operas were first performed there, including the famous Halka and The Haunted Manor, was the greatest 19th century figure in Polish music after Frederic Chopin. He was also director of the Warsaw Opera from 1858 until his death in 1872. Operas composed by Władysław Żeleński, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Karol Szymanowski and many other Polish composers were performed at the Grand Theater, as well as ballet productions designed by Polish choreographers, including Roman Turczynowicz, Piotr Zajlich and Feliks Parnell. Also, major world opera and ballet classics were performed at the theater by prominent Polish and foreign artists.

Since 2008, Waldemar D±browski, a former culture and national heritage minister (2002-2005), has been the general director of the Grand Theater and National Opera. Its artistic director is the renowned stage director Mariusz Treliński, whose productions are considered operatic landmarks both nationally and internationally. The world-renowned Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor is director of the Grand Theater’s ballet company.

This season’s ballet and opera repertoires promise to be even more ambitious and exciting than in previous years. For a complete program go to www.teatrwielki.pl

Jolanta Wolska
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