Picnic by the opera

For the second time Polish National Opera organized a PICNIC BY THE OPERA. After last year’s success we decided to build on the tradition and invite people to celebrate this unique art in front of our home: Teatr Wielki, one of Polish capital’s most distinctive buildings. Again European Opera Days were an inspiration for an event that would bring together opera-lovers and those who have never even been inside…

On 13 May, the grand square in front of Teatr Wielki was transformed into one great picnic-area, with a stage, a few hundred seats (including deck-chairs), but also an entertainment tent dedicated to children, a mobile boutique with the Opera’s accessories, books, posters and (a great hit!): costumes, as well as… several food-trucks.

The event started at midday and lasted until the evening, with live-performances on stage from the Young Artists’ Programme, a children’s choir, the Opera’s chamber choir, as well as a wind-band of musicians from the Opera’s orchestra, screenings (including Manru by Ignacy Jan Paderewski staged by the befriended opera in Bydgoszcz), and historical films.

Off-stage there were promotions of books edited by the Opera, with the authors present. Vastly popular were also guided tours through the houses’ backstage, with a pre-premiere look at the newest exhibition of the Opera Gallery in the foyer: Theatre: it’s on our heads, with a display of several hundreds of the widest range of hats, designed for past and present performances at Polish National Opera. The children fancied ballet classes in one of the house’s beautiful interiors.

The stage was also the place of a special award-giving ceremony, as the General Director of our house, Mr Waldemar Dąbrowski, was honoured with the highest distinction of the Polish Theatre Artists’ Association: the Gustaw-Prize, named after one of the most important personalities of Polish theatre, Gustaw Holoubek, and awarded to people with a lifetime’s engagement on behalf of Polish theatre in several dimensions.

A special additional touch was that on that very day we announced the repertoire for the next season. The first announcement was made by the General Director at Polsat: one of Poland’s’ major TV-broadcasters and leading private TV-companies, with some million people watching it live. That was the moment when Mr Dąbrowski invited viewers for our picnic, presenting the idea behind the European Opera Days. It was for the first time that an opera season in Poland was announced live on TV, with such an extended co-operation between a national cultural institution and private-sector media-giant: Polsat produced also full-day coverage of the Picnic, with a few live-reports from the ‘magic opera-square’.

The announcement of the season was repeated by Director Dąbrowski from the stage during the picnic. The season’s preview was also included in an occasional newspaper: the ‘Picnic Paper’ contained – apart from the repertoire for the new season and information on each opera and ballet premiere – interviews, articles on our latest book-editions, exhibitions, news and… bees, since we now have our own bee yard on the roof of the building!

Thanks to an extended outdoor-campaign, broad activity on social media and fruitful co-operation with the City of Warsaw’s promotion and marketing department, we managed to attract ca. 10.000 of people, attracted either with a special aspect of the programme, or just to spend the day embracing the art they love, or – to touch the yet unknown. We welcomed people of all age-groups, singles, families and also those who just happened to pass by and stayed for longer, because they simply enjoyed it.

Saturday 13 May was at our house – and, or mainly, in front of it – not only about celebrating opera. Inspired by Opera Europa, an organisation whose strength lies in co-operation, communication and mutual support, it was far more, it was a perfect occasion for integrating various artistic milieus and celebrating the cross-disciplinary power of creativity.

It was an important, inspiring experience for us all – one to be repeated without a doubt.