Chopin in the Opera

Why did Chopin not write any opera?

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Paweł Bień (Chopin Institute)

Pass to the Prince's Lodge (19th Century) by J.[ean] Bein, [Nicolas-Auguste] LeisnierThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Why did Chopin not write any opera?

The question was asked during the composer's lifetime and many decades later alike. To this day, some people wish the "poet of the piano" had created a great work for stage.

Yet, anybody who was close to Fryderyk knew perfectly well that he often attended the opera and did not deny himself the pleasure of commenting on these visits.

List do rodziny, Najdroższe kochania. Jeżeli zaraz się nie odpisze… List do rodziny, Najdroższe kochania. Jeżeli zaraz się nie odpisze… (28.03.1847 - 19.04.1847) by Fryderyk ChopinThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

A glimpse into private correspondence

Chopin included some of his comments in letters, which allow us to find out today what drew his attention, what delighted or irritated him, what made him smile. Let us peek into his private letters.

Italian Opera House, Paris by Charles MottramThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Othello and others

The first traces of visits to the opera date back to the teenage years. -Oh horror! The Barber went nasty - eighteen-year-old Chopin complained...

Also, the Telemachus opera was played or scheduled; a novelty I have not seen; so I cannot tell you anything about it. - Othello, it seems to me you have not seen it yet and that you praised Polkowski who performs best in this opera. Meyerowa's singing as usual.

Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida (1742/45) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696–1770)The Art Institute of Chicago

Admiration

Many a time, Chopin spared no words of admiration for the singers. We can find an example in the twenty-year-old composer's letter to Tytus Woyciechowski...

You would delight in her phrasing, her shading is splendid, and although her voice was shaking at the beginning, she went on to sing boldly later. The opera was shortened. Perhaps that was why I found no error of boring longueur in it.

Portrait of the singer Jenny Lind (1846) by Eduard MagnusAlte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Jenny Lind

One of the singers applauded by Chopin in London was his acquaintance, known as the Swedish Nightingale. I saw Miss Lind again in Lucia di Lammermoor yesterday - Fryderyk recounted to his friends - Very good; everybody is enthusiastic.

Typ Euro SlavicLIFE Photo Collection

The dream of a Slavic opera

A year later, Stefan Witwicki urged Fryderyk: You absolutely must be the creator of the Polish opera; I have the deepest conviction that you can become one [...] 

Mountains, forests, waters and meadows have their original, inner voice, although not every soul understands it. I am convinced that Slavic opera, brought to life by true talent, will shine someday in the musical world like a new sun.

The Grand Bal Masque at the Opera, after the drawing of Eugène Lami (1845-1847) by James-Baylie AllenThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

A hard no

Chopin, however, remained adamant. He never wrote an opera, although he willingly visited Paris halls for the rest of his life and stayed up-to-date with classical and new repertoire.

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630) by Rembrandt Harmensz van RijnRijksmuseum

Sun for "The Prophet"

In the opera, they are preparing the sun for "The Prophet"; as it seems, it is going to outdo any tropical suns - Chopin marveled a few months before his death.

It consists of beams of electric light. I was too sick to go to the rehearsal the day before yesterday, but I hope for the premiere. Was he able to see the staging of "The Prophet"? We do not know.

Portret Fryderyka Chopina (1848) by Antoni KolbergThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Inspiration

Opera was also a source of inspiration for Chopin. His juvenile Variations in B flat major, Op. 2 on a theme from a Mozart opera and the Grand Duo Concertante with a theme taken from "Robert the Devil" are excellent and by no means the only examples....

Opera Houses (1776)LIFE Photo Collection

Breathing the opera glamour

Fryderyk advised his students to try to produce a sound similar to singing while playing, and to lead the musical phrase according to the rhythm of their breathing. 

Chopin himself would often breathe the atmosphere of perfume and evening gowns, and saw in it a cure for many afflictions. 

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