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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Ubu Rex - Opera Buffa (1990-91) in a prologue, two acts and an epilogue
Libretto by Jerzy Jarocki and Krzysztof Penderecki based on the play 'Ubu Roi' by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) - sung in the original German
Pa Ubu - Pawel Wunder (ten)
Ma Ubu - Anna Lubanska (mezzo)
King Wenceslas - Jozef Frakstein (bass)
Queen Rosamunde - Izabella Klosinska (sop)
Boleslas, son of the King - Anna Karasinska (sop)
Ladislas, son of the King - Jeanette Bozalek (sop)
Bucksheelas, son of the King - Rafal Bartminski (ten)
Tsar - Mieczislaw Milun, Rafal Siwek (basses)
Bandog - Piotr Nowacki (bass)
General Lassie - Piotr Dymowski (bass)
Stanislaw Leszczynski, peasant - Andrze Witlewski (bass)
Chorus of Polish National Opera, Warsaw/Bogdan Gola
Orchestra of Polish National Opera, Warsaw/Jacek Kaspszyk
live Teatr Wielki, Polish National Opera, 2 Oct 2003. DDD
stage director: Krzystof Warlikowski
Set and Costume Designer: Malgorzata Szczesniak
CD ACCORD ACD 133-2 [51.:58 + 69:48]

If you need more evidence that Penderecki has abandoned his radical language of the 1960s then here it is. Ubu Rex remains however a scathing modern fairy tale - a morality without direct preaching. A smiling puppet master seems to pull aside the curtains and invites you to watch the knaves and fools pursuing power. 'A mad world my masters' indeed. This is an opera that combines elements of two other operas: Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges and the absurdist anti-war The Tigers by Havergal Brian.

Penderecki's encountered Ubu Roi in 1963, when he attended a performance by the Stockholm Puppet Theatre. The original Ubu Roi was produced for puppet theatre in the 1888 farce Les Polonaises performed by Alfred Jarry and colleagues.

Mr and Mrs Ubu kill King Wenceslas, rise to absolute power, abuse it and are supplanted. They combine elements of the Ceausescus, the Marcoses and the Macbeths. That they survive at the end and set sail looking for realms worthy of their irrepressible qualities serves as warning. However appalling they may be they also combine elements of Svejk and Till - or at least they do in this music where they are projected as a lucky but homicidal Punch and Judy. This is after all designated as an opera buffa.

It is sung in Jarry’s original German which will probably help the opera to 'travel'. The booklet, which runs to 210 pages, has full translations side by side in English and Polish. The booklet slides into a card slip-case alongside a double-width CD box. It is packed with colour photographs of the Warsaw production. There are artist profiles as well. On the downside, pages 29 to 38 have already fallen out of my copy; better binding required please. The booklet and CD cover use the poster design by Grzegorz Laszczuk.

Amid the murderous knockabout by the yobs (mercenaries) and the Ubus you get touching moments such as Act I Scene 3 which has the queen telling the King of her dream of Ubu's treachery and assassination of the Royal family. It is finely done with cleanly lyrical writing contrasting with the plotting and intended bloodletting of scene 4. The revolutionary yobs are hall-marked by language but also by eloquent abrasively humorous touches such as when Mrs Ubu serves the yobs their favourite food .... from a bucket.

Not for the last time on CD 2 at tr. 1 6.00 we hear an echo of the Rite of Spring in the orchestral part. In tracks 2 and 3 of CD2 we sense a Mussorgskian grimness as well as the massive weight of choral singing. The Intermezzo is uncharacteristically (for an intermezzo) aggressive in mood - a determined scherzo preparing the way for scene 4 (War). This represents the conflict between Ubu's forces and the Russians now teamed with Bucksheelas, the surviving son of the royal family slaughtered by Ubu.

Act I scene 4 is a good example of Penderecki's use of operatic convention borrowed from Beethoven (Fidelio), Mozart (Don Giovanni and Magic Flute) and Strauss. This is juxtaposed with some smashing pompous brass writing which struts out from the pages of Prokofiev (the Oranges march), Kodály (Janos) and Shchedrin's The Decembrists. It also adds much fifing as well as the jingling of the stahlspiel. Those strutting brass figures which are to become an idée fixe throughout the two hours of the opera recall Panufnik but an with an Imperial brag. This is soon undermined by bile and disillusion - a flavour more readily associated with Kurt Weill - and by the return of opulent Straussian ensembles. Weill’s timbre is also threaded through the writing of the epilogue as the Ubus, survivors to the last, with their mercenaries sail off exchanging ambivalent remarks about Germany and Poland. Overall this work portrays Ubu's discomfiture as well as his indefatigable self-image - his vision of power - a vision uncooled by defeat and disappointment.

This set preserves the world premiere recording taken down live at its Warsaw premiere to celebrate the composer's 70th birthday. The recording ends in enthusiastic applause.

The microphones captures every creak and cackle, laugh and snort, audience cough and clapping amid the bustle of a very active and varied musical core. Spatial effects and stage movements are rendered with what sounds like utmost fidelity.

This is the fourth and last (to date) of the Penderecki operas. The first, as many will recall from its coincidental appearance at about the same time as Ken Russell's controversial film, is The Devils of Loudun. It was premiered at Hamburg in 1969. Next came Paradise Lost (after Milton) given in Chicago in 1978 and then Die Schwarze Maske after the play by Gerhart Hauptmann (Salzburg Festival, 1986). Ubu Roi was premiered by Bavarian Opera and the Polish premiere was staged in Łódź in 1993.

On 18 April an Air Polonia aircraft took off from Okecie airport with nearly three hundred performers of the Polish National Opera on board. Their destination was London. There they gave a series of guest performances at Sadler's Wells to coincide with Poland's accession to the European Union. The programme included two performances of Stanislaw Moniuszko's The Haunted Manor, a concert version of Szymanowski's King Roger as well as two performances of Ubu Rex.

Kaspszyk has also recorded King Roger with CD Accord as well as the recently released complete ‘The Haunted Manor’ by Stanislaw Moniuszko (EMI Classics - anyone who has this set care to offer us a review please?).

This present Polish recording of Ubu Rex is a significant set. For anyone intrigued by contemporary opera, by the prolific output of Penderecki and by modern comic-satirical opera this is an essential purchase. A de luxe presentation too.
Rob Barnett


Track Layout
PROLOG 1.39 W drodze do Polski (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy, Bardior)
Scena 1 8.19 Loze Panstwa Ubu (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy, Bardior, Goscie)
Scena 2 9.53 Wielkie zarcie (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy, Bardior, Goscie)
Scena 3 9.19 U króla (Ubu, Król Waclaw, Rozamunda, Byczyslaw, Boleslaw, Wladyslaw)
Scena 4 8.18 Spisek (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy, Bardior, Goscie)
Scena 5 14.24 Wielka parada i królobójstwo (Król Waclaw, Rozamunda, Byczyslaw, Boleslaw, Wladyslaw, Bardior, Ubu, Najemnicy, Lud, Ubica)
CD 2
Scena 1 19.12 Pierwsze królewskie kroki (Ubu, Ubica, Bardior, Wladimirowicz, Szlachta, Najemnicy, Sedzia, Czlonkowie Rady Finansowej, Lud)
Scena 2 9.34 U cara (Car, Bardior, Bojarzy)
Scena 3 11.40 Pobór podatków (Stanislaw, 3 chlopi, Najemnicy, Poslaniec, Ubu, Ubica)
Intermezzo 2.13
Scena 4 15.43 Wojna (Zolnierze polscy, Armia rosyjska, Ubu, Najemnicy, General Lascy, Poslaniec, Bardior, Car)
Scena 5 8.16 Ucieczka (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy, Zolnierze polscy)
EPILOG 3.06 Na pelnym morzu (Ubu, Ubica, Najemnicy)


Penderecki - really good career overview at:-


Details Of The Warsaw Premiere
Ubu Rex

Ceremonial opening of the 2003 / 2004 season
Celebrating the composer's 70th birthday
2, 5 October 2003, Thursday, Sunday 7-9:20 p.m. (Moniuszko Hall)
Opera in two acts
Premiere of this production – 2 October 2003
Performance in German with projected Polish supertitles
Libretto – Jerzy Jarocki and Krzysztof Penderecki after Alfred Jarry’s play
Conductor - Jacek Kaspszyk
Director – Krzysztof Warlikowski
Designer – Małgorzata Szczęśniak
Video projections - Denis Guéguin
phy – Saar Magal
Chorus Master - Bogdan Gola Lighting Designer – Felice Ross
Cast: Paweł Wunder (Pa Ubu), Ligita Rackauskaite [5 Oct], Anna Lubańska [2 Oct] (Ma Ubu), Józef Frakstein [2 Oct], Piotr Nowacki [5 Oct] (King Wenceslas), Izabella Kłosińska [2 Oct], Dorota Radomska [5 Oct] (The Queen), Anna Karasińska (Boleslas), Jeanette Bożałek (Ladislas), Rafał Bartmiński [2 Oct], Stanisław Kowalski [5 Oct](Prince Boggerlas), Mieczysław Milun (The Tsar), Rafał Siwek (The Tsarina), Piotr Nowacki (Bordure), Robert Dymowski (General Laskey), Adam Kruszewski, Andrzej Witlewski (Stanisław Leszczyński), Lech Łotocki (Messenger)
Male Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

The CDAccord catalogue

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