Theatre, opera and film set designer. Born on 5 December 1972 in Ružomberok, Slovakia. He has been working for Polish theatres for more than two decades.
One of the most interesting and inspiring designers, he is famous primarily for his opera projects. Together with director Mariusz Treliński he forms an artistic duo creating music productions which break with the classic form of an opera performance.
Kudlička is a set design graduate of the Faculty of Stage and Costume Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava. He also studied at the Minerva Academy of Fine Arts in Groningen, the Netherlands. His work was initially influenced by the paintings of Mark Rothko and Antoni Tapies as well as his father's canvases maintained in the aesthetics of constructivism. An interest in contemporary painting, especially abstract, has allowed Kudlička to freely make use of visual shortcuts, successfully build an ascetic stage space which remains "under-defined". Audiences are given many possibilities of interpretation. He has also been inspired by theatre artists such as Achim Freyer and Robert Wilson as well as the work of stage designer and architect Josef Svoboda, who brought film projections and various other visual technologies onto the stage.
Kudlička came to Warsaw in 1995. Here, Andrzej Kreütz-Majewski became his mentor. The achievements of the Teatr Wielki's chief designer were not related to the modern trends that had interested Kudlička until then. With Kreütz-Majewski, Kudlička expanded his stage design horizons and learned the secrets of working in a theatre. He was his assistant in 1995-1996. He was co-designer of the visual setting of productions at the Teatr Wielki, and designed for the Teatr Narodowy and Teatr Komedia. His stage designs featured in productions by Emil Wesołowski, Andrzej Rozhin, and Beata Redo-Dobber.
Kudlička said: "As a stage designer, I meet with various directors, each of them with a different field of vision. I have to be more flexible ... In a given period, a director is usually working on just one play, and can concentrate on it. A stage designer might be creating two, three productions simultaneously, and themes and layers can overlap. I definitely love the magic of theatre, stage design which is not revealed to the audience as soon as the curtain goes up, but which develops as the scene progresses: semi-transparent elements, emerging objects, shadows..." ("Elity" 2003, No. 6)
At the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera in 1998, Kudlička was the stage designer for Stanisław Moniuszko's Straszny dwór / The Haunted Manor directed by Andrzej Żuławski. The production did not win favour with critics or audiences. In his design, Kudlička tried to highlight the ironic tone which was meant to be a motif throughout the show. Hence the appearance of many props made of transparent plastic, for example. The material was supposed to reflect the transience and instability of the presented reality. The use of various materials which had not been a part of stage sets until then became one of the characteristic elements of Kudlička's work.
He explained: "Someone might think this is my rebellion against traditional theatre, while I am simply fascinated with different materials. Technological progress is so great that stage design, too, has to undergo a revolution." ("Polityka" weekly 2002, No. 16)
After Straszny dwór / The Haunted Manor, Kudlička designed the sets for further opera productions at Warsaw's Teatr Wielki - Gioacchino Rossini's Semiramide (1998) and Karol Szymanowski's Harnasie (1998) directed by Emil Wesołowski. At the Stanisław Moniuszko Teatr Wielki in Poznań, he was the stage designer for Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston's The Phantom of the Opera directed by Madeleine Lienhard (1999). With Mariusz Treliński that same year, he worked on the first in a series of their famous joint music productions. It was Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly at the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera. Treliński and Kudlička worked several months on the vision for this production. They joined forces through a shared intuition that opera as a fossilized form familiar to European audiences for decades, was becoming a thing of the past. Now, it could become an intriguing spectacle which, thanks to the use of elements such as visual arts and design, could fit in with the sensitivity of contemporary audiences. Madame Butterfly was recognized as one of the most outstanding productions in the Teatr Wielki's history. The producers abandoned the conventional, Far Eastern setting and the melodramatic tone of Puccini's love story. They turned his opera into a universal story developing in an undefined space. They placed the tragedy of a woman in love in the centre of events.
Jacek Marczyński noted: "The place - also less important, the Japanese background is formed here by colourful patches of costumes harmonized with one another and modelled after the ideas of modern fashion designers, or fishing boats moving in the distance. Or, the charming world of Prince Yamadori, a stylistic combination of old Japanese etchings and modern-day manga comics. There are many original design ideas here which build the mood for the unfolding events..." ("Rzeczpospolita" daily 1999, No. 125)
In the same year, Kudlička designed the sets for Marcel Landowski's Galina directed by Marek Weiss-Grzesiński at the Teatr Wielki in Poznań. In 2000 at the Warsaw Opera, he was the stage designer for Gioacchino Rossini's Tancredi directed by Tomasz Konina, and prepared another production with Mariusz Treliński - Karol Szymanowski's Król Roger / King Roger with libretto by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. Just like in their previous production, the staging and visual concepts were far from the specific place of the action which, according to the libretto, was supposed to be Mediaeval Sicily. The production reached into the depths of human self, showing the protagonist's internal crisis as he revealed his alter ego. The figures of naked ephebes and the Shepherd became an illustration of the duality of Roger's psyche. Some people watching saw inspiration drawn from the world of science fiction and fantasy.
In subsequent months Kudlička's sets were shown to audiences in Poznań, where he worked with director Marek Weiss-Grzesiński. At Poznań's Teatr Wielki, they produced Georges Bizet's Carmen (2000) and Stanisław Moniuszko's Halka (2000). The following year Kudlička was the stage designer for Giuseppe Verdi's Otello directed by Treliński. This time the production, staged by the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera, did not cause such emotions as the two artists' previous joint projects. However, the visual setting again made a huge impression. The story of Othello unfolded amidst visual images suffused with the symbolism of colour. Kudlička expressed the tensions and conflicts of Otello by contrasting black with white. He continued to work with Mariusz Treliński, in Warsaw the two of them staged Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Onegin (2002) and The Queen Of Spades (2004), Mozart's Don Giovanni (2002) as well as Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier (2005) previously also produced in Poznań (2004), Puccini's La Boheme (2006), and Szymanowski's Król Roger / King Roger at the Wrocław Opera (2007). In an interview with Monika Małkowska for 'Rzeczpospolita' daily Kudlička told about working on La Boheme.
I tried to create an aura similar to the one that distinguishes the paintings of Edward Hopper, an American realist. He could perfectly reflect nostalgia, longing and solitude. And this kind of metaphysics of the space. ("Rzeczpospolita" nr 77, 31.03.2015)
Another production was an opera after Christoph Willibald Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice at the Grand Theatre – National Opera in 2009. In this performance the atmosphere of a fairy tale was replaced by contemporary reality. Kudlička built even the interior of an apartment building on the stage.
Boris Kudlička conjured an 'open space' with a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a closet, and a bathroom where Furies run amok in red dresses. (Jacek Melchior, "Wprost" weekly 2009, No. 23)
In 2009 he designed stage for Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunow, which was his another collaboration with Mariusz Treliński. Then, in 2010, they staged Giuseppe Verdi's Traviata at the Grand Theatre – National Opera. Boris Kudlička about the stage design before the premiere:
Decorations are going to be vivid and textural, placed on mobile units. The second act takes place in a rural area and will be a still element, right before returning to the cabaret-type style. In the final act the stage design will gradually become more efficient, until transition to a complete emptiness, the symbol of the character's purification.
In 2010 Kudlička worked with Tomasz Cyz on Antonín Dvořák's Rusalka staged at the Teatr Wielki in Łódź. The scenographer in an interview with Anna Pawłowska for the „Dziennik Łódzki” daily, said:
I represent a way of thinking that demands a lot from a text. I do not want to reproduce forests, meadows, fog or underwater worlds because in theatre they are always used as shortcut, they are always a cliché. Me and Tomek Cyz have concluded that this is a story that can be told in modern language. This wide interpretation can mean something spectacular, something moving and something very clear. This is the kind of form we want to acheive. A psychiatric hospital is not the most important thing in here. The hostpital's space is a metaphor of emptiness. No one wants to be there. This emptiness is a place where Rusalka finds herself. („Dziennik Łódzki” daily No. 53, 04.03.2010)
All of productions made by the renowned duo Treliński and Kudlička are long-awaited both by critics and audience. Their operas in folowing years included: Giacomo Puccini's Turandot (2011), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni (2011), Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (2012), Puccini's Manon Lesacut (2012), Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Iolanta (2013), Béla Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle (2013), Thomas Ades' Powder Her Face (2015), Strauss' Salome (2016) and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (2016).
The Flying Dutchman's libretto was based on Heinrich Heine's short story about a cursed sailor who was looking for a woman, a love of his life who would stay with him until his last days. The opera has premiered at the Grand Theatre – National Opera and was another great success for Treliński and Kudlička.
Powder her face premiered in May 2015 and was very well received. Thomas Ades' compositions had never been staged in Poland before. Dorota Szwarcman in her review for the „Polityka” weekly wrote:
Boris Kudlička has created on the stage of the National Opera an aesthetic space. The work's theme is very close to Mariusz Treliński and it is visible. Yet, he would not have been himself if he did not change something even in a modern play (the famous erotic scene takes place at a gas station, not as said in the text – in a hotel room). However, the co-production of the National Opera and the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels is one of his most successful plays.
Richard Strauss' Salome is one of the most frequently staged operas. The one directed by Mariusz Treliński premiered in March 2016 and was produced in co-operation with The National Theatre / Národní divadlo in Prague. It is a biblical story transferred into contemporary context, with family ties, lusts, a crisis of faith and anxiety play leading roles.
Anna S. Dębowska in her review for muzyka.onet.pl wrote about stage design in Tristan und Isolde.
Two first acts take place on a warship, where Isolde under Tristan's guard is taken to king Mark to become his wife. A war is on and the director do not spare scenes of brutality. The stage design in the first act is a huge construction divided into segments, just like a shelving unit, that perform the function of numerous action sites: a claustrphobic cabin, where Isolde is kept, Tristan's cabin, the space below the deck where explosives are stored. The characters are being under constant supervision, every moment surveillance screens, showing Isolde's cabin, turn on. They are also at gunpoint of night vision equipment, the beginning is washed in green light. All of the above are very interesting ideas, clear and distinctive, likewise visualizations of a black sphere, a death or melancholy planet, associative with Lars von Trier's film Melancholia (the prelude from Tristan und Isolde was used in the film) or a ship slicing the waves.
Apart from working with Mariusz Treliński, as a worldwide renowned duo, Kudlička works often with Dale Duising and Keith Warner. With Dale Duising he has created plays including: Gioachino Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims, Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, Jacques Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, Luigi Cherubini's Médée, Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel and Emmanuel Chabrier's L’étoile. Kudlička 's co-operation with Keith Warner, a respected British opera director, who is particularly interested i Wagner, began with Death in Venice in 2006. Later on, the scenographer designed stage for Aribert Reimann's Lear based on Shakespeare's King Lear, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Krzysztof Penderecki's The Devils of Loudun.
Since 2011 Kudlička has been a scenographer for Amon Miyamoto's spectacles: Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (2011) and Isamu Noguchi's The Earless (2013), staged at the Kanagawa Arts Center in Yokohama and Mozart's The Magic Flute (2013).
Apart from working in music theatre, Kudlička has also designed sets for drama theatres. He was the stage designer for such productions as Ernest Bryll's Cyrano at the Teatr Komedia in Warsaw (1997) directed by Andrzej Rozhin, Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Teatr Narodowy (2000) and Dziady Drezdeńskie / Forefathers' Eve Dresden Text at Poznań's Teatr Polski (2000), both directed by Maciej Prus. He designed the visual setting for Witold Gombrowicz's Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda / Yvonne, Princess Of Burgundy in a production by Andrzej Rozhin at the Wilam Horzyca Theatre in Toruń (2001), Shakespeare's Richard II directed by Andrzej Seweryn at the Teatr Narodowy (2004), Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano directed by Maciej Prus (2013) and Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof directed by Grzegorz Chrapkiewicz (2013), both at the Teatr Narodowy. Agnieszka Celeda wrote about Andrzej Seweryn's Richard II:
Devotees of traditional theatre will be satisfied, from the very first scene, where the king rules against the backdrop of a gold wall and the classy stairs leading to the throne have a mirror reflection up above, a kind of trap ready to snap its 'teeth' at any moment. This image, the work of stage designer Boris F. Kudlička and lighting specialist Felice Ross, immediately defines the subject of the play: the doom hanging over rulers who fail to measure up to the role of God's anointed. ("Polityka" 2004, No. 44)
Seweryn's production was a much anticipated premiere. It gave rise to numerous polemics. Janusz Majcherek wrote:
It's a paradox that Seweryn entrusted the stage design for 'Richard II' to Boris Kudlička, co-author of Treliński's successes. It didn't do much good because the stage design, though remarkable in itself, only serves to strengthen the impression of inconsistent style. As the main element, Kudlička uses huge screens illuminated with cold light of intensive colour, such as pink or red. Added to that is monumental architecture - podiums and cubic forms keep changing and create the possibility of acting on many levels in ever changing arrangements. Regarding the stage design, the production begins and ends on a staircase built on the diagonal. The stairs are reminiscent of the classical analyses of Jan Kott, who described the Shakespearian drama of power over forty years ago with references to an image of stairs as a metaphor for elevation and downfall. ("Newsweek" 2004, nr 44)
Asked to compare working in opera and drama, Kudlička himself says:
"Music is a wonderful abstraction through which I want to communicate. I have worked less in drama, where I feel a little restricted; the theatrical space is smaller, the proportions are smaller, and there's more detail. By the abstraction it contains, music comes close to an image. It is less of a restriction on the imagination. I have a frame seventeen metres by ten, fifty metres deep, huge sides. I like filling that space. It's an immense challenge." ("Didaskalia" monthly 2004, No. 2)
Kudlička was the set designer for films: Dusan Rados' Suzanne (1996), Mariusz Treliński's Egoiści / The Egoists (2000), and Edoardo Ponti's Between Strangers (2001). He was appointed head stage designer of the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera in 2005. From 2011 to 2013 he was a lecturer at the Faculty of Stage Design of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Moreover, he has worked as a scenographer for numerous operas over the world, including: The Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, The Bunka Kaikan Hall in Tokyo, The Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, The Los Angeles Opera, The Staatsoper in Berlin, The Washington National Opera, the Frankfurt Opera, The Israeli Opera in Tel-Aviv-Yafo, and in New York, Bratislava, Valencia, Brussels, Prague, Hongkong, and Edinburgh.
Except from opera and theatre stage design, and set design, Kudlička works also in other fields. Together with Andrzej Kreutz Majewski he has designed Polish pavilion for the Expo 2000 in Hanover and the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, together with the WWAA group.
In 2012 Film Europe Media Company and the Grand Theatre – National Opera published an album - Boris Kudlićka volume 1 with pictures of stage designs created by the artist and his works outside of the theatre.
n 2016 Boris Kudlička together with Mariusz Treliński were granted the Culture.pl Superbrands Award, founded by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute and the Superbrands Polska. The prize was set to show appreciation to artists and cultural institutions that support Polish brand abroad.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, February 2007; updated: July 2016 (ND).
Boris F. Kudlička
Boris F. Kudlička
Boris F. Kudlička