The Polish Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale of Art will present a panoramic film projection of the opera Halka by Stanisław Moniuszko, as it was staged in February for the inhabitants of Cazale, a village situated in the mountains of Haiti.
The winners of this year’s contest for the official Polish representation in Venice, artists C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska and curator Magdalena Moskalewicz, decided to stage the opera in Haiti inspired by the mad plan of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, who wanted to build an opera house in the Amazon. Fascinated by Fitzcarraldo’s faith in the universal power of opera, but not uncritical of the colonizing aspect of his actions, they decided to reveal and undercut its romanticism by confronting a set of very specific geographic, historical, and socio-political realities.
The destination for their quest was Cazale, a village inhabited by the descendants of Polish soldiers who had fought for the independence of Haiti. Sent to Saint-Domingue by Napoleon in 1802-1803 to put down the slaves’ rebellion, the Poles – who had joined Napoleon to fight for the independence of their own country –united with the local insurgents. As a result, these soldiers were granted an honorary legal status in the newly established republic. Still today, people from Cazale identify with their historical motherland and bear creolized last names of their Polish ancestors.
Considered a “national opera” ever since its 1858 Warsaw premiere, Halka was praised for its depiction of Polish folk culture at a time when the country was still struggling to regain independence. Far from a simple rural romance, the tragic love story of the eponymous highlander peasant girl seduced and rejected by her mighty landlord is haunted by the echoes of bloody peasant revolt, underscoring the tense class relations between Polish landlords and their feudal subjects. These echoes become even more prominent in the context of the Haitian Revolution.
- Courtesy Zachęta – National Gallery of Art