One of Poland's greatest actors, stage director, theatre manager. Born 20 January 1855 in Gdów near Wieliczka; died 19 December 1954 in Kraków.
His real name was Ludwik Napoleon Karol Sosnowski, and early in his theatre career he also used the stage name Mancewicz. In his youth he attended a public gymnasium in Tarnów but never succeeded in graduating from this school. He quickly moved on to Krakow and in 1875 began appearing on stage as an extra. A year later Anastazy Trapszo invited him to join his troupe, which mostly performed in Warsaw's garden theatres. Solski went on to work with several private theatre groups. During the 1882/1883 season, he was hired by the Municipal Theatre in Poznan, where he was given significant roles in comedies and dramas. In 1883 he once again became affiliated with a Krakow theatre, where he began using the stage name Solski, which he assumed from his wife, Michalina Solska when the two had married two years earlier. In 1899 the actor married a second time; his wife, Irena Poswik, was an exceptional actress who also performed under the name Solska. Solski's third partner in life was Anna Pieczyńska, whom he wed in 1916.
After remaining in Kraków for some years, Solski then sought to build on his stage career at the Municipal Theatre in Lvov, where he was employed in the years 1900-1905. He then became director of the Municipal Theatre in Krakow and retained this position for several years before resigning during his second term, in 1913, when a number of his actors transferred to the Polish Theatre that had been newly founded in Warsaw by Arnold Szyfman.
In 1913 Solski moved to Warsaw, where initially he was staff director of dramas at the Government Theatres of Warsaw. He continued to perform throughout World War I, initially at the Słowacki Theatre in Krakow, then in Poznan. In 1917-1918 he was director of the Polish Theatre in Warsaw, and immediately after the war appeared as a guest performer on stages throughout Poland. From 1922 to 1924 he was director of the Variety Theatre in Warsaw before becoming affiliated with the National Theatre, where he both acted and directed productions. He also served as director of the national stage in the years 1931-1932 and 1936-1938.
When Solski began acting, Stanisław Koźmian was head of the Krakow Municipal Theatre, where he created the famous "Kraków school", which implied a new understanding of acting. Proponents of this school placed emphasis on the ensemble and did away with the cult of stage stars. Simultaneously, they sought the psychological truth of characters and greater realism on stage, while shunning showy but fundamentally vacuous displays of stage 'art'. Solski matured quickly under Kozmian and subsequently developed his acting talents that were naturally realistic in spirit in a period when Tadeusz Pawlikowski first managed the Krakow theatre before going on to head the Lvov Municipal Theatre. In this period Solski offered excellent portrayals of Łatka (Patch) in Aleksander Fredro's Dozywocie / The Annuity, Harpagon in Moliere's The Miser, the Host in Stanislaw Wyspiański's Wesele / The Wedding and Perchykhin in Maxim Gorky's The petty Bourgeois.
With incomparable power and intensity, Solski knew how to build a character from characteristic facial expressions, clear physicality and movement. Highly visual and expressive, his acting style was simultaneously transparent and clear, and he successfully avoided getting lost in excessive detail. He made excellent use of his voice, changing its tone, timbre and intensity. His voice, facial expressions and bodily gestures, as well as his strong characterizations allowed him to transform again and again with incredible ease and freedom. Thus, he eagerly tackled parts from highly varying repertoires. Solski's great performances included an almost grotesque Aguecheek in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, an excellent Friedrich II in Adolf Nowaczyński's Wielki Fryderyk / The Great Friedrich, and the title characters in Karol Hubert Rostworowski's Judasz z Kariothu / Judas Iscariot and Kaligula / Caligula.
The actor appeared in the plays of Shakespeare, Moliere, Carl Goldoni, Pierre Beaumarchais, Friedrich Schiller, and Victor Hugo, as well as in contemporary dramas by Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. He portrayed a number of Fredro's characters, including the title character in Pan Jowialski / Mister Joviality, Papkin and Dyndalski in Zemsta / Revenge, Radost in Sluby panienskie / Virgins' Vows, Tolski in Dwie blizny / Two Scars, the Chaplain in Damy i huzary / Ladies and Hussars and Kapka in Odludki i poeta / The Hermits and the Poet. He also frequently appeared in productions of Polish Romantic era dramas, above all the plays of Juliusz Slowacki. He played Wernyhora in Sen srebrny Salomei / Salome's Silver Dream, Slaz in Lilla Weneda / Lilla Veneda and the title character in Horsztyński. He also portrayed Father Peter in Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady / Forefathers' Eve and Choisy in the same author's Konfederaci barscy / The Confederates of Bar.
Solski demonstrated an expert approach to bit parts; he was one of the first actors to value them and often elevated their status. With more significant roles, he filled pauses with gestures, mimicry and facial expressions; he proved equally capable of making effective use of silences when playing smaller parts. He was excellent as the servant Firs in Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1906), but his most legendary appearance in a bit part was as Stary Wiarus (Old Veteran) in Stanislaw Wyspiański's Warszawianka / La Varsovienne.
"A proponent of truth, a realist in the broadest sense of the term", wrote Józef Kotarbiński of Solski. "He was decisive in his synthetic approach to roles and in many cases applied an objective method, rendering his individuality less important through an artistic approach to costume and make-up. He was equally capable of being the thin-legged Aguecheek ('Twelfth night') , the chubby constable Dogberry ('Much ado about nothing') and the jovial papa Baluszynski (Zalewski's 'Syn / The son'). He turned mute parts into minor masterpieces: as the Old Veteran in Wyspianski's 'Warszawianka / La Varsovienne', he concentrated intensely, employing a rhythm of gestures, a shaky, strained gait, a mud-covered uniform covered in the dust of battle, to portray soldierly servility and elicit a deep poignancy that embodied the poetry of silent devotion" (in: J. Macierakowski, W. Natanson, "Ludwik Solski", Warsaw, 1954).
Many other exceptional Polish actors emerged from Solski's acting "school". His followers included Jerzy Leszczynski, Michał Tarasiewicz, Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski, Stanisława Wysocka, Maria Przybylko-Potocka, Jozef Węgrzyn, Karol Adwentowicz, Wojciech Brydziński and many others. Very skilled as a director, Solski always placed actors first, though he sometimes demanded that they play a given character in a prescribed way. This was because his technique involved showing actors how to play specific moments.
"We were extremely afraid of him, those of us who were young at the time!" Leszczynski later recalled. "(...) Before our eyes, while working on stage, that man did the work of two, three people… at times he would even 'quadruple himself'. (...) And what went on at rehearsals he directed! (...) At one of the final rehearsals of 'Moralność pani Dulskiej / The morality of Mrs. Dulska', unable to cope with the way an actress was playing Tadrachowa, he donned her frock, tied a kerchief around his head and played out the entire scene while we were terrified almost to the point of being bewildered. But how he played it! Delicious. Standing in the wings, I whispered to Węgrzyn: 'You know, Joe, he could probably even play Shakespeare's Juliet'. To which Węgrzyn answered: 'He'd probably have to play Romeo then, too' " (in: J. Macierakowski, W. Natanson, "Ludwik Solski", Warsaw, 1954).
As a theatre manager, Solski was enterprising, a workhorse who also proved successful as an organizer. During his tenure as director of the Municipal Theatre in Krakow, he hardly avoided introducing staging innovations and hired two exceptional scenery designers, Karol Frycz and Franciszek Siedlecki. He incorporated contemporary Polish plays into the repertoire and enabled the stage debuts of writers like Rostworowski and Nowaczynski, as well as producing plays by Gabriela Zapolska, Tadeusz Rittner, Włodzimierz Perzyński, Jan August Kisielewski, Stanisław Przybyszewski, Jan Kasprowicz and Lucjan Rydel. He also premiered a number Stanislaw Wyspiański's new plays, including Cyd / El Cid, Noc listopadowa / A November Night, Meleager and Legion. He was the first to organize the staging of a drama by Cyprian Kamil Norwid, with the premiere of the poet's Krakus / The Krakovian taking place in 1908. While Solski was director of the theatre, the institution was named after Juliusz Słowacki (1909); the relevant ceremonies coincided with the organization of a festival of the writer's plays.
Solski spent the years of Germany's World War II occupation of Poland in Warsaw. After the Warsaw Uprising, he moved back to Krakow. In 1945 he once again mounted the stage and went on to appear at many different theatres before his death. He received an honorary doctorate from Jagiellonian University in 1954; around the same time the Higher School of Theatre in Krakow was named after him. Solski had more than a thousand roles under his belt by the postwar years. He was seen on stage for the last time in June of 1954: during his professional jubilee, celebrated at the Polish Theatre in Warsaw, he once again offered his legendary portrayal of Dyndalski in Fredro's Zemsta / Revenge - at the age of 99 years.
A 1938 documentary film titled Geniusz sceny / Genius of the Stage recorded some of Solski's great stage performances. The actor's "Wspomnienia" / "Memoirs", recorded by Alfred Woycicki based on extensive conversations with the artist, were published after his death (Krakow, 1955).
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, September 2006
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