Death of Don Juan, stage action in one act; 1959-1961.

Death of Don Juan

Death of Don Juan. Bogusław Szynalski, Krystyna Tyburowska, Monika Swarowska, Dariusz Siatkowski, Ewa Kolasińska, Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Cracow Opera Orchestra and Choir, Ewa Michnik - conductor, 1992.

Death of Don JuanFirst prizePremiere Death of Don JuanAfter the performance of Death of Don Juan

The idea of composing an opera came to Palester already during the war. His work on Live Stones based on Berent’s novel, advanced as it was, was interrupted in 1944 and has not been preserved except for a few fragments. Many years later, the composer again began to think about writing a work for stage. After a long search for a subject, he finally decided on a narrative poem Miguel Mañara by Oskar Miłosz exploiting the theme of Don Juan, close to Palester’s heart.

The Death of Don Juan is not a typical opera, but, rather, a great mystery play somewhere between an opera and an oratorio. Palester called his work a „musical action”. It consists of seven scenes separated by two interludes and two parabases. He treated Miłosz’s text very individually, changing the sequence of particular scenes and of the general message of the poem’s ending.

Musically, The Death of Don Juan constitutes a synthesis of the means and forms used by Palester. The composer applies here the dodecaphonic technique. The series is treated symbolically – its metamorphoses reflect the personal evolution of the protagonist. Voice is used in variety of ways, from traditional singing through Sprechgesang in the part of Don Juan to recitation in the part of the Stranger. The melody is also uniquely expressive, and it is in the melody that the operatic element is at its most evident. A closer analysis of the work also reveals varied usage of traditional musical symbols.

Palester’s monumental work was a huge success. In 1962 The Death of Don Juan was awarded the first prize at the competition organised by the Italian section of the International Society of Contemporary Music in Rome. It was a great achievement for the composer isolated from his homeland and following his own artistic path. Unfortunately, the planned stage premiere, guaranteed by the ISCM prize, did not take place at that time because of organisational problems of the Bergamo theatre. Consequently, a concert version was premiered in Brussels on 6 March 1965 achieving a considerable success. A Belgian reviewer, Jacques Stehman, commented on the performance: „The virtuosity of Palester – one of the most distinguished musicians of his generation – is best displayed in the orchestral score. It is full of unusual instrumentation ideas, thrilling dramatic effects and a variety of tone colours, despite the fact it has been written in the serial style”.

Palester’s work was first performed on stage only after the composer’s death. The performance took place on 29 September 1991 and was presented by the Cracow Opera conducted by Ewa Michnik in the unique setting of the Wieliczka salt mine.