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Verdi is my favourite
Conversation with Juliusz Multarzynski

Juliusz Multarzyński is a photographer.

„Trubadur”: You are a graduate of the Department of Photography of the Wrocław University of Technology. How did it happen that you began to photograph music theatre – opera and ballet?

– Juliusz Multarzyński: In a way it was just chance, though not entirely. I knew from the very beginning that I would deal with photography but I did not think that it would be music theatre, opera or ballet. One can say that it was decided by fate. And it is connected with the fact that I am a music lover, that classical music does not irritate me, au contraire even… The two things got together and have remained so ever since. Of course only later, thanks to what I am doing, did I discover many interesting things, which I would not have learned otherwise; I started to be fascinated with artists, composers… Gradually, all this developed, complemented and eventually became what it is today – my profession

You have a special relation with Teatr Wielki (Grand Theatre) in Warsaw but you work virtually all over Poland. Which theatres do you co-operate most often with?

– It changes. The fact that I live in Warsaw means that the connection with that city is the strongest one, but I really value my co-operation with all theatres. The frequency of my contacts with various theatres depends on their repertoire. At the moment I work most often with Poznań, with director Sławomir Pietras, and with director Ewa Michnik in Wrocław. It is simply because so much is happening there now. It does not mean, however, that I forget Bytom, Bydgoszcz or Łódź. I try to be where there is something interesting going on. But I devote most of my time to the National Opera, where I photograph virtually all events.

I would also like to ask you about concert stages, about Wratislavia Calntans festival, for instance…

– I have been working with Wratislavia Cantans for years. This year I had a break because of conflicting schedules. We will see what will happen in the future. Obviously, not only Wrocław is within the scope of my interests. I have also worked, and not on a one-off basis, with Chopin Festivals in Antonin and Duszniki Zdrój, and of course with the National Philharmonics.

Do you prepare yourself somehow when you are to take pictures of a new production?

– Yes, of course. I think it is not possible to come to a performance and take photographs with no preparation concerning the production and the work itself. The situation is different with regard to concerts. It is rather impossible to prepare yourself in this way for instance for Placido Domingo’s concert in Wrocław. The preparations in that case concerned only logistics. But when it comes to an opera performance, I read the libretto, I ask which artists will take pat in the performance. Usually, I also have to know something about the singers themselves. Fortunately, I know almost all artists performing on Polish operatic stages today. But when new singers come I try to get learn about them as much as possible. From my point of view, it is very important what a particular artist looks like, whether he or she is expressive, how he or she reacts to the photographer, whether he or she likes to be photographed… I gather such information beforehand. There are of course photographers who come to performances without any preparation and it may happen that they will make better photographs than I, but this is a result of an accident rather than a conscious action. I always try to make sure that my photographs will be more that just a reportage or a chronicle.

Do you want to capture in your photographs something more than a passing moment?

– Taking photographs in the theatre means more than just reporting. Of course, every photograph is taken in a split second, but the most important thing is to try to show the atmosphere of what happens on stage. The main idea of photographing in the theatre is not to prove what beautiful photographs I can make but to show how interesting performance was. Obviously, after years of photographing a photographer may elaborate his own style and his photographs may become recognisable, but this is in a way a by-product. What matters most is trying to capture the climate of a scene or an incident that the authors invented. And there are many authors because we have music, direction, singers, sets and costumes… To combine all those elements and record them on a seemingly lifeless piece of paper, that is on a photograph, is difficult and requires some experience and knowledge and, most importantly, humility towards the art. One might risk a statement that a photograph is a synthesis and the most objective and durable proof of an artistic event.

Do you have your favourite artists you like to photograph in particular?

– I will put it differently – there are five or six artists whom I do not like to photograph, of course I will not say their names… But it is not because of any personal reasons, they are just very difficult to photograph. Obviously, there are artists I like more and those I like less but it is only natural, isn’t it

So far two albums with your photographs have been published: the black and white Ballet in Poland and the colour My Verdi. What made you choose those means of expression?

-The album Ballet in Poland is a book for which photographs were commissioned by the publishing house ISKRY and it was their idea to make them black and white. I only made them and gave them to ISKRY, while the text was commissioned from other author (J. S. Witkiewicz). The whole idea of the album My Verdi is mine. It is a book rather than just an album because of the wonderful texts written by such distinguished authors as Ewa Michnik, Sławomir Pietras, Marek Weiss-Grzesiński, all of whom I would like to thank very much. Colour photographs – well, as the years went, colour photography became a standard. It would be difficult not to use colour photographs if there is such a possibility. It should be emphasised here that the only fee all authors of texts, translations, corrections, graphics, drawings, not to mention myself, got was a copy of the book and satisfaction. The money I managed to get from Bank PEKAO S. A., LAVAZZA, CEZEX and STUDIO ARKA were used only to pay the costs of the printing and leaflets. The II Programme of the Polish Radio added a CD with the most beautiful arias from Verdi’s operas sung by the great and unforgettable Andrzej Hiolski. TIME Agency took the risk of publishing and distributing the book. I would like to stressed that everyone I asked for help, on hearing Verdi was very helpful, maybe with the exception of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The book does present the works of only one composer on our stages, but it is a composer whose great significance for opera is unquestionable. Maybe it is not modest, but I think that the book is an important document of what has been happened on Polish opera stages in the last twenty years and the Ministry of the so-called National Heritage should at least show some interest in it. Significantly, all this is happening in the year when the whole world is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the death of the Great Giuseppe…

We should also mention the exhibition accompanying the album, which is now on a tour of Polish opera houses…

-… and which would not existed if all directors of theatres had not agreed to share its costs, with the help of Bank PEKAO S. A. In my opinion it is an exceptional event. I would never be able to organise such an exhibition myself, the cost is too great. It is not only the cost of the photographs themselves, they are made anyway. But making enlargements, framing… Today, one cannot simply stick up photographs with a tape, they must be properly wrapped up, protected. This is very expensive.

Do you have a special place in your heart for Verdi?

– Yes, of all operatic music his operas are my favourite, but not the only ones I like. I highly admire Wagner, I dream of making an exhibition of a production of Ring which was once mounted in Warsaw.

Do you also photograph performances outside Poland?

– Very rarely. Taking photographs in a foreign opera house requires getting proper permissions, which is a time-consuming process. And the costs of foreign trips are not low either. But if I want something very much I get such permission. Nabucco in Lviv is a good example here. I had heard earlier that it was a very interesting production and I really wanted to have some photographs of it in the album.

What do you turn your attention to in your photographs? Is the artist who performs a certain part more important to you than perhaps the set, costumes, the director’s ideas?

– The singers draw most of my attention because they are the focus of all authors of the performance: composer, director, costume designer… The singers bear the burden of transmitting to us the content, emotions present in the performance. I am not only a photographer but also a spectator and a music lover.

– Do you think that different composers should be photographed in a different way? Do you set your camera for Verdi differently than you do for Wagner?

– From the point of view of photographing technique there is no difference, but there is one when it comes to emotions, and that influence the final result of my work. You must remember that one uses the camera to photograph but one photographs only what one’s heart feels and what is created in one’s head.

You are a professional photographer but do you find time and will for taking photographs for pleasure, for photographing something else than the theatre?

– Yes, I do take pictures for pleasure in my spare time, especially during the holidays. Everywhere I go I take photographs of architecture, less of people because I have a lot contact with them everyday in the theatre. I am very interested in sacral architecture, There are so many interesting interiors, in many of which concerts often take place. So I take photographs of all that. For now I put these pictures on the shelf but maybe in the future there will be an exhibition or an album.

– Thank you for allowing us to publish your photographs in our magazine for free and thank you very much for the conversation.

Katarzyna K. Gardzina