The first Polish monarch who was lucky enough to come into contact with the opera was Władysław IV Vasa, when he was still a prince at the court of the Medici in Florence, where he watched Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina. The new genre fascinated the young prince so much that in 1628, he invited an Italian troupe to the Warsaw castle, which brought Galatea by Sante Orlandi. This was the first opera performance in Warsaw. During the reign of Władysław IV, the opera was often performed at the castle, a well-equipped theatre was set up, and the works were staged by Italian troupes. Many works were written and dedicated to honour the king, for example Sława królewska, czyli triumf Władysława IV, monarchy polskiego, króla Szwecji by Piotr Elert. However, the wars with Sweden (’Deluge’) put an end to this stage of opera development in Poland.
The next stage of the opera in Poland was in the Saxon times. Augustus II the Strong built the ‘Opera House’ in Warsaw in 1724, where Italian troops appeared from time to time. The Polish opera, created and performed by Poles, appeared during the time of Stanislaus II Augustus. In fact, the Polish-Italian rivalry between visiting and native artists continued for many years.
Wojciech Bogusławski, whose name frequently and rightly (!) appears in the history of Polish theatre culture, is the father not only of Polish theatre, but also of Polish opera – as a librettist of Poverty Made Happy with the music of Maciej Kamieński, the first Polish opera staged in 1778 at the Radziwiłł Palace.
It is therefore a good thing that Prince Władysław went ‘on a trip’ to Florence and that the opera about himself aroused his interest in this genre.
May there be as many such ‘princes’ as possible today…
Władysław IV Vasa, oil on canvas, author: Peter Paul Rubenscollection of the Wawel Royal Castle Museum, source