“O nudity eternally youthful, hail!
O youth eternally nude, hail!
O youthful nudity, nudely youthful
O nudity of youth, youthfully nude!”
Operetta is the third play and final work of Witold Gombrowicz.
“Theater is a deceptive thing, it tempts one to be trenchant. How much easier it seems it would be to get to the end of a play than to finish a many-paged novel! But the minute you allow yourself to be drawn into all the traps of this disgusting, awkward form—when the imagination feels overcome by the weight of the people on stage, with the awkwardness of the ‘real’ man who makes the floorboards creak ... when you understand that you have to affix wings to this burden, to change it into a sign, fable, art... bah, then one version after another ends up in the wastebasket and this trifle in several acts begin to swell with the months of your life.”
—Diary, 1966, [Trans. Vallee]
Witold Gombrowicz worked on Operetta for over fifteen years before finally arriving at the definitive version: First, from 1950-1951 (during his work hours at the Banco Polaco in Buenos Aires), and second, from 1958-1960 (in Tandil, Argentina). These drafts were edited together in 1975 to form a book titled History (Operetta).
I then got out my rough drafts of Operetta, a play I had begun when I was still working in the bank—and which I had abandoned—and with which I struggled again in Tandil, and which I had once again hidden in a drawer.
—A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]
The third and final version of the work, begun in Vence in December 1964 and finished in August 1966, was first published in Polish in the same volume as the Diary 1961-1966, Ed. Literary Institute, Kultura, Paris, 1966.
“Oh, for it’s gallop, gallop, gallop
To gallop’s my only passion!
To saunter, trot or canter
What sport is that I ask!”
The gallop of Operetta on Karel Trow’s music in Jacques Rosner’s production, Paris, Palais de Chaillot, 1970.
I have always been captivated by the form of the operetta which, in my opinion, is one of the most felicitous forms ever produced by the theatre. While opera remains something awkward, something hopelessly doomed to pretentiousness, operetta, in its divine idiocy, in its heavenly sclerosis, in its glorious etherealness thanks to song, dance, gesture and mask, seems to me the perfect theatre, perfectly theatrical.
—Witold Gombrowicz’s commentary on his Operetta from A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]
Witold Gombrowicz considered Operetta first and foremost a play, a parody of the form of the operetta, and thus did not wish to add a definitive musical score.
This is why directors have the freedom to use the music of their choice in their productions, these being traditional operatic airs or original scores commissioned especially for the piece.
“Operetta, what’s wrong with you, what am I supposed to do, what methods am I supposed to devise so that your sacks speak with the voice of History? ... The raving of history in sacks, this is how I see it right now... . Unexpected, ironic, venomous, gale-thunderstorms, and sudden, interrupted songs and dances.”
—Diary, 1966, [Trans. Vallee]
“Why are you tickling me, sir?! … I beg your pardon, sir?! … I beg your pardon, madam?! … Oh, my back! … Ay, ay, ay, my leg! … Oh, my bust!”
Witold Gombrowicz died in July 1969, and so never knew the glory of Operetta’s successes. The first production of the play took place in November of the same year, in Italy, at the Teatro Stabile of L’Aquila in a production directed by Antonio Calenda.
In January 1970, Jacques Rosner—who was able to consult Witold Gombrowicz about Operetta a few days before the writer’s death—presented his production of the play in Paris at the Théâtre National Populaire in the Palais de Chaillot.
In Poland, Operetta’s premiere took place in Łódź in April 1975, and was directed by Kazimierz Dejmek.
Operetta’s first translation into French was realized by Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński and Geneviève Serreau, published by Denoël in the collection “Les Lettres nouvelles “, Paris, 1969.