Polish National Opera, Warszawa, Poland

The Grand Theatre in Warsaw (Polish: Teatr Wielki w Warszawie), National Oper is a theatre complex, opera company, and home of the Polish National Ballet, located on historic Theatre Square in Warsaw, Poland.The Grand Theatre in Warsaw is one of the largest theatres in Europe and in the world.

Polish opera may be broadly understood to include operas staged in Poland and works written for foreign stages by Polish composers, as well as opera in the Polish language.

The tradition reaches back to Italian language entertainments of the baroque. Romantic opera in Polish flourished alongside nationalism after the partition and is exemplified by the work of Stanisław Moniuszko. In the 20th century Polish opera was exported and composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki wrote operas in other languages that were translated into Polish later.

The Theatre was built on Theatre Square between 1825 and 1833, replacing the former building of Marywil, from Polish classicist designs by the Italian architect Antonio Corazzi of Livorno, to provide a new performance venue for existing opera, ballet and drama companies active in Warsaw. The building was remodeled several times and, in the period of Poland’s political eclipse from 1795 to 1918, it performed an important cultural and political role in producing many works by Polish composers and choreographers.

It was in the new theatre that Stanisław Moniuszko’s two best-known operas received their premieres: the complete version of Halka (1858), and The Haunted Manor (1865). After Frédéric Chopin, Moniuszko was the greatest figure in 19th-century Polish music, for in addition to producing his own works, he was director of the Warsaw Opera from 1858 until his death in 1872.

While director of the Grand Theatre, Moniuszko composed The Countess, Verbum Nobile, The Haunted Manor and Paria, and many songs that make up 12 Polish Songbooks.

Also, under Moniuszko’s direction, the wooden Summer Theatre (seating 1,065) was built close by in the Saxon Garden. Summer performances were given annually, from the repertories of the Grand and Variety (Rozmaitości) theatres. Józef Szczublewski writes that during this time, even though the country had been partitioned out of political existence by its neighbors, the theatre flourished: “the ballet roused the admiration of foreign visitors; there was no equal troupe of comedians to be found between Warsaw and Paris, and Modrzejewska was an inspiration to drama.”

The theatre presented operas by Władysław Żeleński, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Karol Szymanowski and other Polish composers, as well as ballet productions designed by such choreographers as Roman Turczynowicz, Piotr Zajlich and Feliks Parnell. At the same time, the repertoire included major world opera and ballet classics, performed by the most prominent Polish and foreign singers and dancers. It was also here that the Italian choreographer Virgilius Calori produced Pan Twardowski (1874), which (in the musical arrangement first of Adolf Sonnenfeld and then of Ludomir Różycki) has for years been part of the ballet company’s repertoire.

According to Antonio Corazzi’s 1825 plans, the Grand Theatre’s front façade was meant to feature a triumphal sculpture of Apollo, patron of the arts, driving a chariot drawn by four horses. However, the defeat of the November Uprising caused the idea to be abandoned. The platform above the main entrance meant for the quadriga remained empty for nearly 200 years.

Finally, in 2002, at the initiative of the Grand Theatre’s then-general director, Waldemar Dąbrowski, the sculpture that had been envisioned many years earlier came to adorn the façade. The new, contemporary quadriga was designed by professors at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, the rector, Adam Myjak, and the dean of the sculpture department, Antoni Janusz Pastwa. The sculpture was unveiled by Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski on May 3, 2002, to mark Constitution Day.

For over 170 years the Grand Theatre (now “the Grand Theatre and Polish National Opera”) has been Poland’s grandest opera and ballet institution.

Opera: The Polish National Opera at the Grand Theatre continues its 200-year tradition, producing works by Polish composers from Karol Kurpiński, through Stanisław Moniuszko, to Krzysztof Penderecki. However, classic operas are also well represented: the company’s repertoire includes the best operas by the major figures of opera, past and present.

Ballet: Polish National Ballet (formerly Ballet of Teatr Wielki – Opera Narodowa) has worked with major international figures in the world of ballet as well as with many Polish choreographers, such as Leon Woizikovsky, Stanisław Miszczyk, Witold Gruca and Emil Wesołowski. Currently, works under direction of Krzysztof Pastor.