A theatre actress, outstanding representative of the so-called 'Krakow school'. Born June 16, 1842 in Trzebinia near Wschowa; died June 16, 1897 in Krakow.
A theatre actress, outstanding representative of the so-called 'Krakow school'.
Antonia Hoffmann came out of an evangelical, landowning family of German origin. In her youth she studied at Paulina Krakow's finishing school for girls in Warsaw. Despite her family's objections, she sought an association with the theatre early on. In 1858 she began taking private lessons from Jan Królikowski and that same year she became a student at Józef Rychter's School of Drama in Warsaw. She made her stage debut at age seventeen, while still a student, playing Fredericka Wagner in Emil Augier and Juliusz Sandeau's comedy Kamień probierczy / Touchstone at the Variety Theatre in 1859. Shortly thereafter she relocated to Krakow, a city she would remain tied to for the rest of her life. In 1860 she was hired by Józef Pfeiffer, director of the Municipal Theatre in Krakow, where she appeared in production after production and quickly became the leading actress in what was otherwise a relatively weak ensemble. Around this time she met Stanisław Koźmian, with whom she would remain in an informal relationship throughout her life.
With brief breaks, she continued to work in Krakow until 1893, initial under Pfeiffer's direction and later under that of Adam Miłaszewski (1863-1865), whose tenure as director ended in fiasco and in the disbanding of the entire troupe. The theatre ad descended into creative and organizational sloth, and this was obvious in 1864 when the Krakow troupe traveled to Lviv for a series of guest performances. There, the actors could not have gotten a worse reception, with both critics and audiences condemning them for their sloppiness. These were hardly Antonina Hoffmann's best years, marked by her playing various roles; in fact, she accepted parts almost indiscriminately, portraying lyric and tragic heroines, leading ladies, as well as character and comic parts. A misunderstanding with Miłaszewski led her to leave the Krakow theatre and by 1865 she was working with Konstanty Sulikowski's troupe in Tarnów.
Better times arrived for the Krakow theatre in 1865, when Adam Skorupka was made its head. Koźmian began collaborating with Skorupka as artistic director and in 1871 was appointed both administrative and artistic director of the Krakow stage. Hoffmann was once again cast in the theatre's productions, performing with the troupe in Krakow and during guest appearances in cities like Poznań, Krynica, Kielce, Tarnów (1866-1869, 1872) and Prague (1891). Around this time she traveled independently to Vienna and Paris to see theatre there. In Vienna she met and became friends with the tragic actress Karolina Wolter, with whom she exchanged views on acting. In the 1870s and 1880s she also put in guest appearances in repertoire roles at theatres in Poznań, Lviv and Warsaw.
Before long she had become one of the most celebrated representatives of the so-called "Krakow school," that is, a new approach to staging and acting that Koźmian was gradually but steadily introducing at the theatre. The method was based on more penetrating analysis of the literary work being staged, and Koźmian's theatre was specifically a literary theatre that involved conveying to the audience, as accurately as possible, the form and content invested in a play by its author. Acting reforms entailed encouraging stage artists to draw from their observations of everyday life and to place greater emphasis on psychology in interpreting their characters. Shortly, Krakow actors became known for a more natural, relaxed acting style free of affectation. Antonina Hoffmann formed part of an excellent ensemble that included Feliks Benda, Wincenty Rapacki, Bolesław Leszczyński, Ludwik Solski and Helena Modrzejewska. Hoffmann was often compared to the latter member, and both actresses valued each other's cooperation, though this did not prevent them from artistically competing. At the time, many people valued Hoffmann for her contributions to the shaping of the new acting style. She was known for treating her work very seriously and for having striven by all means possible to achieve simplicity and truth on stage. Simultaneously, the other members of her troupe customarily followed her lead. A malicious rumor in turn contended that Koźmian came upon the idea of a subdued acting style closer to real life because of his partner Hoffmann, who simply lacked the ability to act vividly and with flare. By propagating this style, he brought the entire ensemble into line the skills possessed by Hoffmann, who had worked elsewhere in her naturalistic style previously.
"(...) Hoffmann was a highly typical child of her age," wrote Jerzy Got. "That meant a lot, specifically in the theatre, which once again was behind in terms of the changes occurring at the time in art, culture and custom. Hoffmann's art was hardly ahead of its time; rather, she was in step with the surrounding world, which in the theatre actually meant being innovative. It was her ‘contemporaneity' that was unusual in theatre" (J. Got, "Antonina Hoffmann i teatr krakowski jej czasów" [Antonina Hoffmann and the Krakow Theatre of Her Time," Warsaw, 1958).
Her characters gained truth, honesty and simplicity, which does not mean they came across as neuter in performance. In fact, they became more convincing and suggestive. Hoffmann's acting was disciplined and consistent. Though characterized by freedom, it avoided audience flirtation, exaggeration and sentimentality, as well as conventional poses and artificial declamation. She was very conscientious, approaching her roles holistically, skillfully and gradually introducing character traits. Her contemporaries saw her portrayals as realistic, though the actress emphasized developing and deepening her characters' core personality traits rather than creating detailed psychological portraits. Se would say,
"In art, not all that is real is beautiful; but what is not real can never be beautiful" ("Ziarno" [The Seed], Warsaw, 1880).
In the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s, she primarily chose to play dramatic roles and characters in the salon dramas of the time, though she hardly neglected comedy, for which her lively intelligence and sense of humor suited her wonderfully. Around this time she offered a number of excellent performances in classical repertoire plays. She was Elizabeth in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos and Lady Milford in the same author's Love and Intrigue, and she appeared in a number of Shakespeare plays, playing Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing, Catherine in The Taming of the Shrew, Gertrude in Hamlet, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Desdemona in Othello. She also appeared in the title role in Jean Racine's tragedy Phaedre, portrayed Suzanne in Pierre Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro and Camilla in Alfred de Musset's No Trifling with Love.
She played a number of roles from the Polish repertoire, offering unforgettable performances as Clara in Aleksander Fredro's Śluby panieńskie / Maidens' Vows and Gulda in Józef Korzeniowski's Cyganie / The Gypsies. She also acted in contemporary French plays, portraying Joanna de Simerose in L'ami des Femmes and Severine in Princess George by Alexander Dumas, Princess Falconieri in Octave Feuillet's Dalila, and the title character in Victorien Sardou's Odette. Juliusz Słowacki remained one of her favorite Polish writers, and she played the leading role in many of his dramas, which Koźmian staged often. Hoffmann would often choose the Romantic poet's characters for her benefit performances, striving to counter the fairly widespread opinion at the time that his dramas were awkward to stage. The roles she played on these occasions included Amelia in Mazepa, Idalia in Fantazy and Salomea in Horsztyński. Balladyna, from Słowacki's play of the same title, proved to be one of Hoffmann's paramount acting achievements. She also tackled the title role in Beatryks Cenci / Beatrix Cenci.
"Madame Hoffmann seems to like playing Slowacki's women in particular and she has been blessed to have introduced all of them to the stage," wrote a reviewer for the "Kurier Poznański" in describing Beatrix Cenci, adding, "(...) She masterfully combines tragic force with a lyric softness and sensitivity" ("Kurier Poznański" [Poznań Courier], 1872, no. 148).
Koźmian resigned his position as director of the Krakow Municipal Theatre in 1885. Jakub Glikson replaced him and managed the theatre until 1893, when Tadeusz Pawlikowski was appointed to the position. Hoffmann continued to perform on the Krakow stage but was no longer its leading light. She acted less frequently and with frequent breaks caused by her battle against cancer. Toward the end of her life and while Tadeusz Pawlikowski managed the Krakow theatre, she offered two more exceptional performances – as Kasztelanowa in Sarnecki's Urocze oczy / Charming eyes and as Lysistrata in an adaptation of Aristophanes directed by Koźmian. During her lifetime, Antonina Hoffmann played nearly four hundred roles. She appeared on stage for the last time in 1893.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, October 2006.