Operatic Science Fiction

The Cyberiad

The Cyberiad

Opera goers and science fiction buffs are not necessarily overlapping groups, but with “The Cyberiad”, staged by the Opera Theatre in Poznań, both groups have a treat in store. Krzysztof Meyer composed this comic opera and wrote its libretto in 1970, based on Stanisław Lem’s short stories published in 1965. Rumour has it that even though Lem himself suggested these particular texts to Meyer, who was his friend, he did not like the music. Lem had a superb sense of the melody of language and was able to do linguistic magic with sounds and rhythms in words, as readers of his books can attest to, but he was not particularly appreciative of concert hall music. In 1971 Polish TV recorded and broadcast the first act of “The Cyberiad”, yet the official censors had second thoughts and the recording was destroyed immediately afterwards. Its irreverent humour clearly ruffled decision makers’ feathers. Although the opera was performed in Wuppertal in 1986, its Polish premiere did not take place until 2013. Directed by Ran Artur Braun, it is now shown both in Poznań and during guest performances in Warsaw. The director translated Lem’s robotic reality into a fairy-tale theatrical world devoid of its original political allusions bringing its playful wit to the fore. Lem fans may be surprised with certain changes the libretto introduced to the original. The protagonist’s name in the opera is Trull rather than Trurl, which would be awkward to sing, and King Genialon from the short stories became Queen Genialina: prima donnas also want to have a part to sing. The opera revolves around the adventures of constructor Trull, a fiendishly clever robot engineer, whom Queen Genialina commissions to build three storytelling machines. The first is to produce long, convoluted tales, the role of the second machine is to tell cunning stories and the third is expected to come up with moving narratives. The structure of the stories, which are embedded in other stories, like “One Thousand and One Nights”, lends itself well to ironic and utopian reflexions on life. Meyer’s music brings out the humour in the libretto. Possibly, after seeing “The Cyberiad”, opera lovers who have been rather lukewarm about science fiction might want to read Lem. And those already familiar with science fiction texts and films might discover opera.

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