Fantasy ballet in four acts and six scenes
‘The story is a charming, yet not too clear or logical fantasy on the dissipated life led by rollicking young men and naive notions of hell and the deeds of its inhabitants,’ writes Irena Turska in her Przewonik baletowy (Ballet Guide). The action moves from the chambers of Rinaldo, a bon-vivant who attempts to commit a suicide and sees the devil sticking his tongue out from a wall painting, to a city square during a masquerade, to hell, to an idyllic spot at the foot of a waterfall. Other characters include Helena, Rinaldo’s beautiful fiancée, Lucifer, Black Servant and a cheeky Monkey. In the end, after a string of astonishing events unfolding in different dimensions of this world and parallel universes, it all turns out to be a dream of an unruly youth.
The libretto was penned by Virgilius Calori, the then director of the Warsaw ballet company, who also choreographed the world premiere. Stanisław Moniuszko wrote the music for the first three scenes, while the three other were danced to music by Adam Münchheimer. While Münchheimer’s score survived almost unscathed, most of the music composed by Moniuszko has been lost.
The ballet was given its debut on 1 December 1870 at the Teatr Wielki, Warsaw. The staging was opulent and used stage effects devised by Stefan Papée and Michał Groński. In Professor Małgorzata Komorowska’s words, ‘the audience was dazzled by fire dragons and giants-dwarfs, that is figures that would increase and decrease in size [before their eyes]’. The production was a major draw for the public and was shown for many subsequent seasons at the Warsaw opera house.
The ballet’s next staging opened a century later, in 1969, at the Gdynia Music Theatre. The piece was reduced to one act, featuring music by Moniuszko only (the original score and the composer’s other pieces), arranged by Mieczysław Krzywiński and choreographed by Jerzy Wasłowski, who also adapted the libretto.
On 27 May 1988 another production of the ballet (also in one act) premiered at the Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, this time featuring music by Moniuszko and Münchheimer arranged by Bogdan Hoffman, with a libretto by Janina Pudełek.