From October 23 to 29, writers from five continents will meet in Kraków to discuss the phenomenon of migration. The list of guests who will share their stories features, among others, Kateryna Babkina, Natasha Brown, Philippe Claudel, Inga Iwasiów, Georgi Gospodinov, Mikołaj Grynberg, Intan Paramadi
The theme of the 15th Conrad Festival will be migrations. The organisers have invited to Krakow authors from Iran, Indonesia, South Korea, Morocco and the United States, among others. The programme includes a plethora of events dedicated to literature written in French, Spanish, German or Norwegian. Meetings on the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border are also planned.
“We want to talk about the experience of people who were forced to leave their own homes, but also of those who decided to take such a step on their own, as their previous places of residence proved insufficient for them – for various reasons,” says Grzegorz Jankowicz, programme director of the Conrad Festival. “How are creators responding to the migration crisis? How do they talk about it? What are they trying to sensitise us to? Answers to such questions will be sought during the festival. We believe that literature will help us better understand complex situations – including those we have not experienced first-hand,” adds Jankowicz.
Professor Michał Paweł Markowski, artistic director of the festival, points out that Poland today is one of the countries where migration is dynamically changing the society. In many ways we were not prepared for this. “For a long time, either Poland did not exist, so nobody chose it as a destination, or it did not have any attractions to make people want come here. People were fleeing Poland, rather than seeking here refuge,” says Markowski. The situation when there are more and more people who want to live in our country permanently or are trying to find asylum in it for a while is a completely new challenge.
The humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border will be the subject of a festival meeting with artists who are also activists: Krzysztof Czyżewski, Olga Hund and Mikołaj Grynberg. Contemporary migration to Europe and the role of non-fiction literature in social communication will be discussed by renowned reporters: Szymon Opryszek, Olga Stanisławska and Dionisios Sturis. An important moment of the festival will also be a meeting with Małgorzata Rejmer, who talks in her new book about extreme experiences. Its protagonists have to leave not only the place where they live, but also themselves, crossing the boundaries of their previous self.
The programme could not lack a meeting with Ukrainian literature. Krakow will host three acclaimed novelists who to talk about the situation in war-torn Ukraine in their latest books: Kateryna Babkina, Tamara Duda and Halyna Kruk. Importantly, during the festival it will be possible to support people with refugee experience by taking part in a fundraiser run by the Ocalenie Foundation.
“We try to think about the central theme in a broad and non-obvious way. Hence, the programme includes, for example, a meeting with philosopher and activist Darek Gzyra on animal refugees,” says Grzegorz Jankowicz. “Another type of migration is the flow of ideas. It is on this topic that we will be discussing with Inga Iwasiów, Ryszard Koziołek, Małgorzata Lebda and Jakub Żulczyk, among others. Here, I must also mention Georgi Gospodinov, a Bulgarian writer who has just received one of the most important literary awards: International Booker Prize. At the festival, he will talk about collective escapes to the past,” adds Jankowicz.
The majority of the events of the main programme will take place at the Stanisław Wyspiański Academy of Theatre Arts in Kraków. During the Conrad Festival, the building located in the Kraków Planty Park will host artists representing various languages and cultural circles. Some of the meetings are scheduled in the intimate interiors of the Potocki Palace on the Main Square.
This year we will enjoy a number of meetings with leading figures of the French literature, including Grégoire Bouillier, Philippe Claudel and Maryam Madjidi, as well as the jurors and judges of France’s most important literary award, the Goncourt Prize. These events will mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of a local version of the award, called Goncourt List: The Polish Choice. This award is organised by the French Institute and the verdict is decided by the students of Romance Studies from all over Poland.
The programme of meetings with Spanish language literature is particularly rich. The list of authors invited to the Conrad Festival includes Chilean Nona Fernández Silanes, Guatemalan Eduardo Halfon, as well as the Argentinian-born Martín Kohan and Samanta Schweblin. The festival will also offer meetings with authors of the younger generation writing in German: Laura Freudenthaler from Austria and Judith Schalansky from Germany. What is more, the Conrad Festival will host also interesting female authors coming from Asia: Bora Chung from South Korea and Intan Paramaditha from Indonesia.
“This year we are not only celebrating the 15th edition of the Conrad Festival, but also the 10th anniversary of Kraków being awarded the title of UNESCO City of Literature. On this occasion, we will be meeting characters whose books have already gained some popularity in Poland, such as Natasha Brown and Sofi Oksanen – but also those who are so far known only in a narrower circle of readers. Each of them, however, deserves equal attention because they create original stories that broadens our knowledge and develops our sensitivity,” argues Urszula Chwalba, executive director of the Conrad Festival.
“Reading Lessons”, Conrad Award and much more
Following the pattern of previous years, the festival is hosting a literary interpretation workshop called “Reading Lessons”. A detailed programme of accompanying events, including the children’s and family section, a film section at the Pod Baranami cinema and the Book Congress aimed at the book industry, will be announced shortly. Festival week will be crowned with the Conrad Award ceremony, presented for the best literary debut of the past year. Distribution of free electronic tickets will begin on October 16. More information on the Conrad Festival website.
Conrad Festival organisers: City of Krakow, KBF – operator of the Krakow – UNESCO City of Literature programme, Fundacja Tygodnika Powszechnego.
Funding: Ministry of Culture and National Heritage
Strategic partners: Tygodnik Powszechny and Allegro.
Partners: Académie Goncourt, Austrian Cultural Forum, British Council, Cervantes Institute, French Institute, Korean Cultural Centre, Kraków Library, Literary Union association, Polish Literary Translators Association, International Book Fair in Krakow.
Media patrons: RMF Classic, Wyborcza.pl, Książki – Magazyn do czytania, Czas Literatury.
We invite you to visit the Conrad Festival channels:
These works come from different epochs and represent different styles, but are connected by a common thought. They make us wonder why we are so eager to build walls around us, what are the consequences of this, and what to do to build bridges instead of them. Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of last year’s Nobel Prize for literature, in an interview given during the Conrad Festival in 2018, spoke about the Palaeolithic settlements built without any fortifications: “Can you imagine that once upon a time people didn’t build walls because there was no need?” In this vision of the distant past, we look at our present, in which the walls – the real and the mental – seem to be growing in number.
What does the opera have to do with it? If we treat it as a fortress separated from the world, in which only the art of beautiful singing is cultivated, probably not much. However, this is a false vision, because opera has always been able to react quickly and sharply – listen to social moods, comment on reality, insult kings, inspire revolts, lead to fury or tame dictators. There is no reason why it shouldn’t tell us about the world here and now. It can do this in two ways – by referring directly to current events or by reflecting them in the mirror of the past.
Hence, this year’s program includes as many as three “historical” operas. “Historical” in the broad sense, because one of them presents a completely fictional history, the second legendary and the third based on facts, but what they all have in common is that they talk about conflicts and the devastating effects of divisions. The first case is Sigismondo” by Rossini, set in the court of the Polish king. However, the work does not portrait one of our rulers of this name, but a fictitious Piast monarch in a country plagued by conflict with Hungary. The 1814 work will be shown in Poland for the first time. Vanda by Dvořák, which presents an episode from the legendary history of Poland, is also poorly known in our country. I don’t think there is a person in our country who doesn’t know the legend of Wanda, who didn’t want to marry a German – and that is what the librettists chose as a starting point. It is an opera about a religious conflict. Queen Wanda is a faithful follower of the Slavic gods and does not agree to accept the proposal of the German duke – and Christianity along with it. War is inevitable. There will also be a work about authentic events and still alive in the collective memory – Weiße Rose. Udo Zimmermann approached the musical elaboration of the history of the German anti-Nazi resistance group White Rose three times. In 1967, he wrote an opera to a libretto by Ingo Zimmermann; he developed another version of the opera the following year. The planned production at the Hamburg Opera in 1986 was to include further adaptations, but instead he decided to write a new work on the same subject, this time to the libretto by Wolfgang Willaschk. The result was a completely different work, devoid of plot and focused on the inner experiences of the two protagonists: the Scholl siblings just before their execution in a Nazi prison.
Unknown, I Live with You is a direct commentary on our present. The opera-installation was inspired by the poems of Afghan women poets – their personal statements, undistorted by their husbands, fathers, brothers and biased media. The authors took part in a project designed to encourage women to express themselves through words and tell their own stories. Most of them took part in the project in secret.
There are other divisions that the Il ballo delle Ingrate (Ballet of the Ungrateful Women) tells us about. This perverse courtly morality play by Monteverdi considers the border between life and death, between people and gods, as well as between men and women. From today’s perspective, it makes us think about whether we, living in the modern times, are not disturbed by the visions of the gender relations presented in the work. The performance at the Opera Rara Festival will break another wall: the one that divides the worlds of contemporary and early music. The bridge between 17th-century Italy and Poland in the 21st century will be built by the composer of the young generation, Teoniki Rożynek.
Alfred Tennyson is a poet rarely read in our country, and who is not as famous as his older Romantic colleagues, such as Shelley, Keats or Coleridge. Meanwhile, in the British Isles, his “Enoch Arden” is considered to be the most classic poem of the Victorian era. Thanks to the festival, we will have the opportunity to discover this story anew – in a performance combining the music of Richard Strauss with the performance of professional and amateur actors. In his poetic novel, the British writer described the story as the reverse of The Odyssey: the fisherman Enoch returns home from a ten-year wandering journey and discovers that his wife, convinced that her husband has been dead for a long time, married another man. The whole project will be directed by Mira Mańka, a student of the Faculty of Drama Directing at the AST National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow, and Dominika Peszko will sit at the piano.
The Opera Rara Festival will run from 23 January to 14 February 2020 in Krakow. Tickets and passes for the festival will be available for sale from 30 October 2019 at InfoKraków points and on the Eventim.pl website.
Between tradition and modernity
The Festival was inaugurated by the premiere of Hippolyte et Aricie – Jean-Philippe Rameau’s lyrical tragedy directed by Sjaron Minailo. A great challenge of the French Baroque turned out to be a field for experimentation for a contemporary artist. The Israeli director created the spectacle with elegance worthy of France, all while maintaining a balance between music, libretto and movement, thus proving that it is possible to build a bridge between the past and tradition spanning centuries with contemporary interpretation. Non nova, sed novae – the old has been read anew. A similar experiment was conducted by Tomasz Cyz, who presented a coherent artistic statement by combining two musical works, with completely divergent histories, aesthetics, genre and form. His two-part, reflexive staging of Cassandra & Just consisted of Baroque solo cantata by Benedetto Marcelli (1727) and post-minimalistic film music by David Lang (2014). A Madrigal Opera by Philip Glass is another one of experimental works, which is constantly being reinterpreted and read anew. Thanks to Krzysztof Garbaczewski’s metaphorical and artistic interpretation, the original opera returned to Krakow (the performance was commissioned by the Opera Rara Festival in 2017), focusing once again on the openness and ambiguity of the composer’s and director’s message.
After the creative search at the intersection of the experiment, abstract art and metaphor, there was time for some entertainment, masquerade and humour – Mozart’s Così fan tutte, cast and directed by Cezary Tomaszewski, was a carnival holiday and controlled prank. The sisters were played by the perfect Katarzyna Oleś-Blacha (Fiordiligi) and the charming Monika Korybalska-Kozarek (Dorabella), Marzena Lubaszka was cast as their clever and playful maid Despina, Sebastian Szumski and Przemysław Borys created a successful duo of young officers – Guglielmo and Ferrando, and Jacek Ozimkowski entertained the audience as Don Alfonso. The artists and the director provided the audience with excellent entertainment, and the music, masterfully played by the musicians of Cappella Cracoviensis under the baton of Jan Tomasz Adamus, left them in awe. Inviting the Krakow Burgher Choir, made up of amateur singers and music aficionados, turned out to be a perfect move, since they gave a great performance.
Chamber meetings with highest-quality singing were possible thanks to renowned artists, performing on the most important music stages in the world: Jakub Józef Orliński, Evelina Dobračeva, Sophie Karthäuser, Adriana Kučerová and Patricia Petibon. Each of the five recitals presented a variety of voices and temperaments of the performers, while demonstrating the diversity of the repertoire over the centuries and cultures.
The young and charismatic countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński enthralled listeners with the joy and lightness of is singing, as well as with his bold juxtaposition of two distant musical worlds – 17th-century operatic arias and Polish songs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Not only did he reveal many colours and undertones of Baroque music, but he also proved himself extremely successful in contemporary repertoire, particularly with his masterful performance of songs by Szymanowski, Baird and Łukaszewski. Russian soprano Evelina Dobračeva reassured the audience that lyricism can be expressed to its fullest mostly through singing, by performing songs of the three great composers – Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Rachmaninov. Sophie Karthäuser impressed with her rich musical imagination and artistic maturity, which are both required to perform a musically difficult and interpretative programme comprising German Lieder and French songs. Adriana Kučerova’s recital let the Krakow audience listen to Slovak folk songs, and the artist enchanted her listeners with her beautiful voice and expressive stage personality. The festival and a series of recitals were crowned by the performance of the unconventional French soprano Patricia Petibon. Together with La Cetra Barockorchester ensemble, the singer has brought about an extraordinary world with no stylistic, sound, historical or even geographical boundaries. Seemingly musically distant arias from French Baroque operas and traditional melodies from different parts of the world all came together to form this colourful panorama of sounds.
Opera Rara is not a review of performances, but a committed and creative forum on the current state of the opera. This year’s edition of the festival proved that this genre constantly remains inspiring and fashionable, allowing us to draw on its rich and extensive tradition, experiment, rediscover old works, keep creating new ones, evoke emotions and have fun. The diverse programme of this year’s edition of the festival certainly provided the audience with a wide range of impressions and emotions. Did it find new roads? Following the paths of various interpretations and ideas, it marked out its own path – somewhere between experimentation and tradition, between modernity and history. Was it a golden mean?
Baroque arias and old songs from distant lands
The artist picked up a bold selection of arias from French Baroque opera, English masque and Spanish zarzuela, which comprised the main part of the concert programme, juxtaposing them with traditional songs from Peru, France and the British Isles. In addition to the classic “Greensleves” tune, we had the opportunity to hear compositions by Jean Philippe Rameau, Henry Purcell, Marc-Antoin Charpentier and George Frideric Handel. The juxtaposition of solemn arias with Peruvian melodies and free Spanish zarzuela performed by Petibon and La Cetra Barockorchester, was surprising at first, but turned out to be a cohesive, colourful and very lively programme, and the seemingly distant musical and stylistic words all joined together into a colourful panorama. The performers, who enjoyed both the music they played, as well as the fact that they were playing together, captivated and delighted the audience with their imagination and stage energy.
The colourful sounds of the musical New World – Nouveau Monde – filled the Cloth Hall thanks to the variety of interesting instruments, including bagpipes, theorbo, harpsichord and strings, and their sound was complemented by Petibon’s dynamic, dramatic soprano. The programme of the concert featured vocal pieces interwoven with instrumental fragments performed by La Cetra Barockorchester with certain style and expression. Together with the ensemble, the singer has brought about an extraordinary world with no stylistic, sound, historical or even geographical boundaries.
Elemental power on stage
Petibon’s performance was truly unconventional – the artist wore colourful glasses, the musicians put on masks and feathered wings, and used plush mascots of a fox and a hare to illustrate the melody of “J’ai vu le loup, le renard, le lièvre.” Other enjoyable elements included songs imitating the sounds of animals and birds from exotic countries far beyond. Spontaneous and cavalier, Petibon emphasised the performed pieces with balanced dance and gestures; while combining jokes, great entertainment and certain panache with daring singing. Petibon knows how to use her voice to produce all the tones and shades in order to give her melodies a certain glow and meaning, depending on their lyrics and the context of the work. The singer also surprised the audience with her even, strong voice in low registers, quite unusual for a coloratura soprano.
Patricia Petibon is an extremely expressive, charismatic artist who is outstanding at dealing with the audience. Her Krakow performance was a clear example showing that one can build a bridge between traditional music from different countries, as well as high art, all while having fun – especially when the energy and joy of the performing musicians is shared with the audience they enthral and enchant together.
It was a perfect and strong finale of this year’s edition of the festival – filled with beautiful songs, joyful carnival entertainment and artistic impressions.