When I first saw the Kraków Opera House on ul. Lubicz, I was certain it was the train station. However, having seen Dworzec Głowny, I quickly realised otherwise. The Kraków opera house building is designed in two parts, with a long low grey building acting as the ante-chamber. It has a long curved roof which reminded me of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and make me think it was perfect for a train to pull into. The other part of the structure is a huge red box. This is what houses the theatre itself, and the deep shade of red features strongly throughout both internally and externally. The opera house is an impressive building, in my opinion, at least.
However, there was controversy when the building was being built, as it was felt that it was ‘too modern’ and would not fit in Kraków. The building is a striking mix of strong colours, sharp lines and modernist looks. There are a number of small interesting quirks such as the external spiral staircase at the rear of the building, and these touches give it a twist. The fears around being overly modern appear to be unfounded, as the public appear to have welcomed the new addition to the Kraków skyline. Opera Krakowski claims 98% occupancy with shows such as Madame Butterfly, Carmen and La Bohȇme proving to be popular with audiences.
Last Friday, I attended the Opera Krakowski production of La Bohȇme (known as ‘Cyganeria’ po polsku), which was performed by the theatre group Slezské Divadlo from Opava in the Czech Republic. With seats reserved in the balcony, myself, my wife and our friends were looking forward to the show. La Bohȇme is generally seen as the second most popular opera worldwide, only behind Madame Butterfly in numbers of performances. It was written by Giacomo Puccini and first performed in Turin in February 1896. The central story concerns the love between the seamstress Mimi and the poet Rodolfo and was set in Paris around 1830. The other key characters are Rodolfo’s friend Marcello (a painter) and his girlfriend Musetta, and Rodolfo’s other friends Schaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher.
The opera was accompanied by the orchestra, and the opera house has an interesting method to bring the audience closer to the stage, including the musicians too. Half of the orchestra were in the ‘pit’ between the stage and the first row of the audience with the remainder of the musicians in a special area hollowed out under the beginning of the stage. The musical ensemble was managed by a very enthusiastic conductor, who even did little hops up and down during the liveliest pieces. The orchestra was magnificent and the singing was excellent too.
However, it was a little confusing trying to follow the story in parts. The opera was set in France, and sung in Italian, by a Czech opera group, with Polish subtitles appearing above the stage. Thus it was a little difficult, as a native English speaker, to try and follow exactly what was happening, by reading Polish subtitles and hearing singing in Italian, meaning that double translation (from Italian and Polish into English) was happening in my head. However the whole opera experience was a memorable one and one that will be followed upon again. With an impressive building providing the setting, a trip to the opera is advisable for anyone in the Kraków area.
More information on the Opera Krakowski can be found at www.opera.krakow.pl.