A Design for Life

25 January 2017

We always dreamed of an opera festival in Kraków which would make us feel like we’re a part of the cosmopolitan world. That’s why Opera Rara 2017 is a fascinating adventure, full of possibilities, says Robert Piaskowski, the festival’s programme director.

Karnet: Let’s start from the basics: why opera in particular?
Robert Piaskowski: Because it’s a universal language: the laughter and tears are the same in Sydney, New York, Vienna and Warsaw. It’s incredible that even when the stage designs, artists and directors change, the music evokes the same emotions – as long as it’s performed well, of course. It turns out that the genre – for years accused of being affected, pompous and exaggerated – is celebrating triumphs today, thanks to the latest technologies and the mobility of artists and audiences. As the festival’s artistic director Jan Tomasz Adamus said, opera is our cultural link: French artists singing music by a German composer who wrote for an Italian king, with the whole thing performed in Poland, or perhaps in Hong Kong. It’s a positive aspect of globalisation, which we want to showcase during the festival.

A new formula, a programme expanded to include other periods, new – not just operatic – genres… Is the Opera Rara festival an evolution or a revolution?
Oh, it’s definitely an evolution! Although it’s true that certain decisions were revolutionary – such as introducing staged and semi-staged versions, and expanding the repertoire to span four centuries, from the 17th to the 20th. After all, the “rara” epithet doesn’t have to be limited to early music. It simply means that which we don’t hear in standard opera theatres. By stressing the “rara” element, we are focusing on a certain niche aspect: the festival features a Baroque opera, an opera by Philip Glass, and the Vilnius version of Halka, which will never replace the better known Warsaw version. We reveal opera’s boundaries to build understanding of the genre and increase the numbers of its fans. We decided to expand across the city, too: operas will resound at venues including the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, Sukiennice, the Kraków Philharmonic, the Hall of Blessed Jacob and the ICE Kraków Congress Centre. Spanning three weeks – from 18 January until 10 February – the festival shows that opera is an excellent design for life, for spending time, for personal development.

A whole three weeks?
Events aren’t held every day, so we won’t be worn out or bloated. It seems that the public likes this concept of an expanded formula and philosophy behind the refreshed Opera Rara brand, which has brought Kraków into Europe’s operatic bloodstream and awoken hunger for the genre. Each week which brought us closer to the inauguration also brought news of several hundred more ticket sales. Reaching this situation where almost all performances are sold out ahead of the first ever edition of a festival is every promotor’s dream. But it’s not just about ticket sales. Let’s not forget that the well-known brand includes something incredibly deep and authentic: a programme which promises audiences an experience of opera which they’ll never have enough of.

The Opera Rara Festival is co-organised by two institutions: the Krakow Festival Office and Capella Cracoviensis. How is this model working out?
Really well! We use a similar model during our literary festivals, the Theatrum Musicum festival which provides a platform for presenting classical music, the Film Music Festival and the Divine Comedy theatre festival. And these examples will multiply, because co-hosting and sharing knowledge is a terrific formula. We are consistently investing in cooperation instead of competition – we prefer co-creating instead of appropriating.

Interviewed by Barbara Skowrońska

Robert Piaskowski – sociologist, Polish philologist, musician and cultural manager, deputy director of the Krakow Festival Office in charge of programming and programme director of the Opera Rara festival

See also: Creativity, Ambition, Vitality, an interview with Jan Tomasz Adamus, artistic diretor of the Opera Rara festival

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