Choreographer, director and performer. Creator of renowned music performances of Capella Cracoviensis. He served Monteverdi in a milk bar and practised Gluck in a sports hall and Moniuszko in a parlour in Kraków.
Choreographer, director and performer.
Born in 1976, he finished theatre studies in the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw and studied choreography in the Brucknerkonservatorium Linz in Austria. He also graduated from music school and for 15 years honed his vocal skills in Teatr Wielki – the Polish National Opera in Warsaw. He creates both theatre and opera and experiments with classical pieces. Tomaszewski has overtly stated that what interests him in art is banality.
Theatre and Western classical music are still sacred cows in Poland – we are either supposed to become ‘more cultured’ or receive an oration, as if from a pulpit. The scene is a place from which grand truths about the world are delivered. What I’m looking for is this point of intersection.
In 2009 he realised a show in Vienna – The Merry Widow – an original version of Franz Lehar’s operetta starring four Polish cleaning ladies in which the musical parts were interwoven with the heroines’ personal monologues. How did they end up in Austria? Why are they doing housekeeping? ‘The Austrians approached us after the play and said that it made them believe in the importance of standing up for women’s rights’, Tomaszewski recounts. The show brought him international fame and prestigious commendations for the best director and the best indie production in Austria, awarded by magazines such as Theater Heute and Falter.
A different approach to music
Cezary Tomaszewski emphasises that creating a field for discussion is also important to him. Bar.oque Feast, the stage version of Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigal, presented in the unusual setting of a Kraków milk bar, was undoubtedly a pretext for many talks. ‘It was important to me to show the music in a different context. […] This stage version is a voice against putting music on a pedestal’, he explained.
The young director also embarked on other unconventional ventures together with Capella Cracoviensis, for example, he brought Mendelssohn’s songs from concert halls out into the open air in Wolski Forest, and Christopher Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice into a sports hall.
His rendition of Stanisław Moniuszko’s Vilnius version of Halka, premiered at the Opera Rara Festival in Kraków, travelled widely as well.
The music was performed by Capella Cracoviensis and conducted by Jan Tomasz Adamus. However, new motifs, dialogues and characters were introduced. One of them was Maria Fołtyn, a singer who lost her voice, dedicating the mute period of her life to promulgating Moniuszko’s music all around the world. The character of Cezary Tomaszewski, the 11-year-old disciple of Fołtyn, was introduced as well.
Culture.pl’s review says:
Thus Moniuszko’s piece becomes not only a story about betrayal, but also a treatise about the voice and the role of women in the opera. The conventions do apply and there is no shock directed at the contemporary viewer, who has already seen many things in the musical theatre. It is a bit too dense, some details seem to be like banging one’s head against an open door (for example the scene in which Halka is dressed in t-shirts with optimistic memes and trendy slogans, propagating the idea not to treat yourself too seriously). However, it is worthwhile to engage with Tomaszewski’s show, which presents a certain paradox of art in a thought-provoking way: making something more contemporary could be a way of going back to its roots.
Although the show was highly controversial and divided the critics, it also – according to Filip Lech – returned to the roots of opera and music theatre.
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Wedding and War
In the theatre, the artist has taken on Stanisław Wyspiański among others. His surrealistic Wedding Based on Wedding, using a hit song from The Lion King in the final scene, was created in Jan Kochanowski’s Theatre in Opole. Tomaszewski has also worked with Teatr Nowy in Łódź (All is Well That Ends Pretty) and Bogusławski’s Theatre in Kalisz (Julian Tuwim’s The Soldier of the Queen of Madagascar).
The most recent spectacle realised in Komuna Warszawska, based on the artist’s biography – Cezary Goes to War – was dubbed one of the most interesting shows in the Autumn 2017 season by the critics.
As for his next play, Aneta Kyzioł wrote in a review for Polityka:
Before the War/The War/After The War, the second opening of the Komuna//Warszawa project, inspired by the resurfacing war and military rhetoric in Poland, brings a camp revue, which is amusing and touching at the same time (…).
No wonder Tomaszewski was awarded for the prestigious Polityka Passport Awards in 2017. Jacek Sieradzki, a member of the jury, wrote:
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Tomaszewski has amazing musical imagination. He is capable of conjoining opposite qualities and drawing from both high culture and pop culture. Importantly, Tomaszewski has something that is very rare in our theatre of sensation and sadness: a gargantuan sense of humour.
Paweł Soszyński, a theatre critic, appreciated Tomaszewski's ‘intelligent criticism, poignant lyricism, sharp wit and his courage that allows him to say simple things in a surprising, unpretentious manner’.
In December 2017 Tomaszewski directed Leon Schiller's A Market Booth of Songs in the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. The show is based on a collection of popular songs that Schiller, a prominent figure of Polish theatre, composed in the first half of the 20th century. The first time Schiller staged a show based on the collection was in 1945, in a detention camp for Poles located in the British-occupied territory of Germany. The revue was staged by a theatrical group comprised of soldiers, captives and prisoners. As Schiller himself wrote, the show ‘cultivated propaganda about returning to the Homeland’. Tomaszewski commented:
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[…] a good half of these songs is rather suspicious – they are either nationalist, chauvinist, or simply incredibly dumb. However, I approach this material with understanding, as it's the voice of the people. I'd say the challenge of this project was to find a contemporary parallel for these songs, so that their charm was apparent.
As Piotr Morawski wrote for Dwutygodnik:
Tomaszewski destroys sentimental convention and certainly won't fulfil the expectations of those who'd simply like to listen to some good oldies about pre-war Warsaw or corny love songs. The creators of the performance expose how illusory sentimentalism is and how this repertoire is definitely not noble. They do it accurately and gleefully.
In June 2018 the ‘exotic opera based on motifs from Stanisław Moniuszko's Paria premiered. The piece was called It's Hard to Get to Bródno and was presented as part of the artistic programme of the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. The artist once more decided to humorously stage a classic piece. The original Paria takes place in India, but Tomaszewski decided to set his opera in the district of Bródno – a neighbourhood in Warsaw that is quite distant from the shiny city centre and stereotypically perceived as dangerous. As the curatorial text says, vocalists and opera singers performed opera parts accompanied by Moniuszko's music and avant-garde Indian music, mixed lived by DJs.
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Tomaszewski ended 2018 with Instytut Goethego (Goethe Institute) by Daria Kubisiak, staged at the Dramatyczny Theatre in Wałbrzych. This time the director prepared a ‘tragicomic music thriller’ and decided to examine The Sorrows of Young Werther. Tomaszewski refreshed and ironically commented on the famous work by the German author, juxtaposing it with Agatha Christie's crime stories and making his protagonists die while reading Goethe's famous novel.
In 2019, as part of the Opera Rara festival, Tomaszewski directed Cosi fan tutte by Mozart. Jan Tomasz Adamus conducted the piece. Soloists were accompanied by Krakowski Chór Mieszczański, an amateur choir.
In April 2019, Tomaszewski directed My Stay’s Almost Over and I’m Still Alone in the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków. As we read in press materials, it was a ‘sanatorium operetta’. The director and artists co-operating with him transformed the stage into Professor Józef Dietl’s Sanatorium (Dietl was a famous 19th century doctor and mayor of Kraków; he is still very much present in the city, as one of Kraków's most important streets is named after him). As Łukasz Gazur wrote in the daily Dziennik Polski:
Tomaszewski is an artist who is capable of resuscitating artworks and genres that are virtually dead so that they gain new life and a contemporary feel. This time he brought an operetta to life, using it to tell a story about Eros and Thanatos, sex and death, desperate search for affection and solitude.
In January 2020, the musical Gracjan Pan directed by Tomaszewski premiered at the Capitol Music Theatre in Wrocław. It is a tribute to Gracjan Roztocki – one of Poland's most original Internet celebrities, an artist, YouTuber, musician and cook. The script was written by Natalia Fiedorczuk-Cieślak; Tomasz Leszczyński arranged Roztocki's songs and the duo Bracia – Aga Klepacka and Maciej Chorąży – was responsible for set design, costumes, props and video.
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cezary goes to war
As a choreographer, he worked with Monika Strzępka, Wiktor Rubin, Maja Kleczewska, Eva Rysova and Bartosz Szydłowski among others. His projects, such as Last Temptation of Saint Bernadette and Dance Tetralogy, have been presented at festivals in Austria and Switzerland.
Sources: cezarytomaszewski.com, polityka, wysokie obcasy, dwutygodnik.com, Culture.pl, taniecpolska.com.
Originally compiled by AL, translated by Patryk Grabowski, October 2017, updated by NS, Jun 2020