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Review of the Opera "Madame Curie" in "Ruch Muzyczny"

We would like to present fragments of the review in the last edition of last year’s “Ruch Muzyczny” of Elżbieta Sikora’s opera „Madame Curie, written by Anna Pęcherzewska–Hadrych. Contemporary operas appear rarely in Poland today, and so we should welcome the Gedanensis Opera project with even greater joy, under which the Baltic Opera will present new works every two years, which they will comission. Plans include operas: about Schopenhauer (born in Gdańsk) with music by Piotr Moss and a libretto by Antoni Libera, about Hans Memling (his Last Judgement is the greatest treasure belonging to the National Museum in Gdańsk) and a further musicalisation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The project is ambitious and - there is nothing to hide - expensive, and it remains to be hoped that the organizers will acquire adequate financial resources. For now, they have managed it - November 25, the first of the planned operas, "Madame Curie" by Elżbieta Sikora, was presented in Gdańsk.

The presentation happily coincided with the time of the Polish presidency of the European Union (and its promotion was brought under the program I, Culture) and announced by the UNESCO International Year of Chemistry, which was under the patronage of Maria Skłodowska-Curie. Hence the idea to release a double premiere: before it went to the Baltic Opera, it was given on 15 November in the UNESCO Hall in Paris, although it is not very suitable for stage works with the orchestra. This order of presentation determined the staging concept, as it was prepared with a view to the challenging the conditions of this hall.

The mosaical system of scenes works in the staging – the whole has an expressive drama (despite the unconvincing beginning), with a strong, emotional culmination in the scene of the massive attack on the main character and a beautiful, muted finale. The well-constructed libretto, however, disappoints in the details, one could say it even arouses embarrassment, because it operates with language on the level of school readers or an honour academy, alternating with questions straight from Venezuelan soap operas (the pinnacle of kitsch is the scene of anti-prayer to the Virgin Mary). It only remains to rely on the singers’ poor diction, but unfortunately - at the premiere, it was excellent and the text simply could not be listened to.

The music - on the contrary: it is fascinating, and - as usual with Elżbieta Sikora - highly energetic. The sounds, like atoms scattered in an accelerator, colliding with each other, generating a cascade of new sounds flitting in all directions at once. Dissonances, the ghostly hue, the illuminated (spectral?) chords, whispers and screams, and subtly used electronics - so it looks at the micro level; from a distance one can see a well laid out, dynamic form. Sikora, the author of two operas, at any rate, has proven once again that she has a great feeling for the stage with, among other things, daring use of the choir, almost continually accompanying the heroine - as a commentator, and above all, as a participant in events, usually ruthless, like a horde in passion.
The theatrical narrative owes thanks for the good tempo of the direction by Marek Weiss, who made maximum use of the limited space. Many ideas are really great: the scene depicting the growing Irene and Eve, Maria’s daughters (behind their backs adult women appear, the girls leave, led away by an apparation – Lod’e Fuller), the entrance of the choir, like a ghostly zombie, the view of Paul and Mary motionless, bent over the table in the press attack scene, or the excellent sequence with the newspapers, which become a tool for lynching. There are also less persuasive passages: Maria fumbling on stage at the beginning of the show, or intrusive video projections of the atomic bomb and flashes from the First World War; although despite these, it must be emphasized that overall it leaves a very good impression.

Huge thanks for this are due to Anna Mikołajczyk in the title role, who created something – and I say this without any hesitation - outstanding. Endowed with a magnificent, powerful soprano voice (known - ironically – particularly by lovers of early music) with flawless intonation, she coped with the breakneck, highly dissonance part, simply phenomenally, singing with great expression; she was also excellent from the acting point of view. The other soloists also came out very well, even better than usual: because the orchestra sat in the back of the stage; the orchestral pit was built around them, the action taking place on the widened proscenium, and as a result (it is difficult to say whether this was intended) the singers’ voices were well heard - a solution to take into account in the future, because the voices in the Baltic Opera, unfortunately, usually disappear.

Following the premiere of Madame Curie, we look forward with optimism to the opera about the great pessimist, Schopenhauer, wishing the Baltic Opera management perseverence in raising funds. Sikora's work is certainly worth getting to know, though - if it was a possibility - I would suggest a Chinese (or Finnish) language version. Without translation.

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