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PROF. RYSZARD KARCZYKOWSKI, one of the most eminent Polish opera singers who has made it big on world stages, and a winner of the "Polish Market" Honorary Pearl award, talks to Maciej Proliński. For the fifth time the "Polish Market's" Honorary Pearl in the Culture category has been awarded to an opera singer. What does this distinction mean to you and in what way do you promote Poland through singing? I’m delighted to receive the "Polish Market's" Honorary Pearl. I believe that Polish culture is blessed with a large number of artists of great calibre. This cultural elite is Poland’s best trademark. I have been performing abroad very frequently for several decades, in fact more often than in Poland, and during this time I have always tried to promote Poland and its music. But I’m sure than many other colleagues also deserve this prize because they very professionally and creatively promote Poland from Japan to New Zealand to the whole of Europe, the US and Africa. PM

Your path to a professional international singing career has not been a straightfoward one. Let’s talk about the very beginnings. I was born in the small town of Tczew in the Pomorskie Province. Since childhood I was fascinated by the career of Tczew-born physician and outstanding tenor of the Baltic Opera, Stefan Cejrowski. I decided to follow in his footsteps. In primary school I sang in a choir, which performed in Oliwa Cathedral. Having completed my secondary education, I began medical studies in Gdańsk, but I decided to give it up after a year. I wasn’t ready for all the challenges medicine posed. I took private music lessons under the great soprano Halina Mickiewiczówna who had just ended her stage career. I was one of her first students. She persuaded me to join the Baltic Opera choir where I initially sang as a second tenor not to ruin my voice which was being trained. I learned a lot at the opera. But then it proved difficult for me to find PM

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a job at a music theatre in Poland. Finally, I was hired by Edmund Wayda, the then director of the State Operetta in Szczecin. The beginnings weren’t so easy. Looking back on the decades of communist rule, it is amazing how many great artists emerged in the second half of the past century. It seems ironic that - except for literature which functioned the most freely among expatriate Polish artists - communism didn’t do too much harm to Polish culture. You made a name for yourself as an opera singer in the West already in the late 1960s. So did the communist state make life difficult for artists after all? And about present-day realities, you often hear that it is too expensive to spend public money on culture. But can you afford not to? Well, in every profession, what really matters is your capabilities and hard work – in every generation and under any political system. It’s true that under the former system, the state did care for culture more. The communists seemed to realise how much culture mattered. They were guided by a mission to save Polish high culture. For many people nowadays culture means mindless entertainment. PM

So what’s the role of the National Philharmonic and the National Opera at a time when everybody thinks they can sing and dance and show it off on YouTube? Everybody seems to be both an artist and a juror. What’s the role of traditional cultural institutions in shaping the nation’s backbone and restoring the right proportions? Regrettably, television has taken centre stage. Of course, the impact of the philharmonic and the opera is far smaller than that of television. You need to make an effort before PM

you attend a concert of symphonic music, you need to get ready by asking yourself what it’s about, who wrote it, how and why. And making an effort doesn’t really mean getting dressed for the occasion. The philharmonic and the opera are not elitist. Anyone can sit in the audience. You have performed operatic parts, you have recorded classics, religious music, arias from operettas. Why the diversity? Singing is my whole life... No matter what job I’d decide to do, I reckon I’d try to do my best. That’s my philosophy. In music, the style and genre don’t really matter. What matters is quality. I believe that we now need to work in a broader spectrum, to broaden the music offer. This helps us to develop. PM

Music critics used to write about the tears and emotions brought by your performances, about how your singing was admired by concert-goers. Critic and head of Warsaw’s cultural radio station RDC Tadeusz Deszkiewicz spoke fondly about it at our gala ceremony. Music bringing tears to people’s eyes is a very touching way to describe audience reaction to what I do. For me, the human voice is the most magnificent instrument which can express more than even the grandest symphony orchestra. My motto is to speak from the heart and to touch other people’s hearts. To speak a language everyone can understand. Music is a language with no barriers. PM

So music is all about emotions? That’s right. The whole baggage of theory and history of music is secondary, it’s at the back of your mind. The acclaimed Polish composer Wojciech Kilar once said that too much music nowadays is contrived and little comes straight from the heart. I fully agree with that. PM

Profile for Polish Market

Polish Market No.12 (266)/2017  

Published on Jul 13, 2017 "Polish Market” is a prestigious English-language magazine published since 1996. In its pages, it promotes the Pol...

Polish Market No.12 (266)/2017  

Published on Jul 13, 2017 "Polish Market” is a prestigious English-language magazine published since 1996. In its pages, it promotes the Pol...