Władysław Mierzwiński

21 October 1848 Warsaw – 14 July 1909 Paris
Mierzwiński was the first Polish singer to get worldwide recognition. His career became a legend. In spite of the fact that he was once as famous as Paderewski, his countrymen quickly forgot him, .

His father Joseph Mierzwiński was a mason who prepared his son to be a bricklayer. Fortunately, he was a bricklayer only for a short time.

Mierzwiński studied singing at the Music Institute in Warsaw. His first teachers were professor Francesco Ciaffei, then Gabriel Różnicki. Both Warsaw educators failed to recognize the the type and range of Mierzwiński's voice, by training him as a baritone, and forbidding him to reach the higher registers. As Mierzwiński later recalled, Różnicki's only merit was that he persuaded Mierzwiński's father to send him to Italy for further study.

After brief studies in Naples, Mierzwiński moved to Milan, where at the conservatory he studied with the famous Francesco Lamperti (so-called "senior" because his son, Giovanni Battista, was also a famous teacher). Unfortunately Lamperti, like his Warsaw colleagues, did not judge Mierzwiński to be a tenor. After several lessons as a baritone, Lamperti came to the conclusion that the Polish student would not benefit further. Lamperti told Mierzwiński not to bother anymore. And he added: I will grow hair on my palms, or dance at La Scala as a ballet dancer, before you can sing there. Ten years later Mierzwiński had great success at La Scala, witnessed by Lamperti. After the performance, Lamperti stood repentant before Mierzwiński and said: Fammi ballare.

After seven years of working on his voice in Italy, mainly self-taught, Mierzwiński found himself in Paris in the early seventies. Here Halanzier, the director of the Opéra, appreciating his talents as a tenor, introduced him as Raoul on November 6th, 1874 in his theater (Salle Ventadour). It was also the first time that the Polish press mentioned his name. According to local reviews, the biggest problem for Mierzwiński was his French pronunciation. Other roles he sang at the Paris Opéra were: Vasco (10 December 1879, with Gabrielle Krauss), Arnold (21 June 1880, with Daram, Mechissédec, Boudouresque, Bataille, Laurent and Altes conducting).

After Paris, Mierzwiński sang first in Marseille, then in Lyon, while perfecting his knowledge of the French language.

After his performance in October 1876 in Marseille as Éléazar, the music critic of the Journal de Marseille wrote (27 October 1876): "Rarely we had the chance to hear a singer as perfect as Mierzwiński. Particularly on our stage, where the best tenors sang, we did not hear a voice as fresh, pure and rich. Mr. Mierzwiński sang with such skills and taste that he delighted not only professional musicians, but the whole audience. It should be noted that, while it was difficult for a foreigner during this year to enter the French repertoire and fight the difficulties of pronouncing our language, he succeeded completely. We predict a great future for him."

In Lyon, the performances were greeted with enthusiasm, local newspapers praised his voice. He then went to Geneva to give a concert. After returning to Lyon, Mierzwiński went to Marseille again. The Marseille newspapers "Le Sémaphore," "L'Égalité" and "Le Peuple" expressed a favorable opinion on Mierzwiński's singing, in particular the extension and power of his voice.

Thanks to appearances at the Paris Grand Opéra in the late seventies, Mierzwiński gained notoriety in the capital of the world, as Paris was called by the French.

Mierzwiński 's truly global career began in 1881. He first appeared in London (Les huguenots at Covent Garden on May 5th with Cotogni, Édouard de Reszke, Fursch-Madi, Sembrich and Scalchi; a concert at Floral Hall on June 4th together with Adelina Patti, Marcelina Sembrich-Kochanska and Édouard de Reszke, where Mierzwiński sang an aria from La Juive). Then he arrived in summer in Warsaw for his first appearances in Poland. It was his first time there after many years abroad, his arrival was highly anticipated. On August 8th, he sang Raoul. He was praised by the press and compared to Tamberlick, Wachtel, Masini and Niemann. His high C, C sharp and D were full-bodied and easy.

He also sang Robert le diable on stage, and excerpts of Africaine and Guillaume Tell in concerts. In early September, Mierzwiński ended his performances in Warsaw with three charity concerts.

Finally, still in 1881, the crowning on December 26th: his debut at La Scala as Arnold (with Andreeva, Aldighieri, Vecchioni for a total of 16 performances). Two months later (23 February 1882), he took part in the next premiere at La Scala in Hérodiade (with Teodorini, Moriami, Ciampi-Celej, Nanetti for a total of 10 performances), followed a month later, 21 March, by Simon Boccanegra (with M. Borelli, Victor Maurel, Marescalchi, R. Nannetti for a total of 7 performances).

He was now regarded as the "king of tenors" and became one of Europe's cultural heroes. He received the highest fees and performed at the most prestigious stages. He dazzled and delighted, especially those listeners, who are impressed with voice acrobatics and the easy production of the highest notes achievable by a tenor.

In 1883, he again appeared in Warsaw and starred in a charity concert for poor university students, together with the famous actress Helena Modjeska.

He went to St. Petersburg in 1884; however, in the capital of the Tsar of All Russias, Mierzwiński was treated with sharp criticism by the press. After a performance as Arnold, his debut role in St. Petersburg, the Novosti critic, N. Haller, wrote: " ... His range, namely the upper notes, are excellent, but do not have the volume of Tamberlick, nor the softness of Masini. In addition, Mr. Mierzwiński uses more the voix mixte than the chest voice, the middle voice is weaker than the upper range...".

Other critics in St. Petersburg were even more stringent, which did not disturb the audience who fell into rapture with the Polish singer. A year later, the same thing happened in Moscow, where Mierzwiński sang with the famous primadonna of the European scene, Paulina Lucca.

In 1885 and 1886, Mierzwiński made guest appearances at the Hofoper in Vienna: as Arnold (11 April 1885, a total of 3 performances until 10 April 1886), Raoul (15 April 1885, a total of 4 performances until 24 April 1886), Manrico (21 April 1885 and 25 April 1886), Radames (24 April 1885), Jean de Leyde (12 May 1885 and 13 April 1886), and Éléazar (7 April 1886). In Vienna, he was heard by probably the harshest music critic in Europe, Eduard Hanslick. Hanslick, in his Geschichte des Konzertwesens, hailed Mierzwiński as a phenomenon.

Mierzwiński decided to perform in Prussia at the Hofoper in Berlin. This was met with widespread condemnation by the Polish press in 1886. The Athenaeum wrote: "Mierzwiński ... hurries to Berlin to celebrate the court and thus breaks all solidarity, all commonality with us at the moment ... it offends our feelings ... " .

Even more bluntly, the Literary Feast wrote: "Mr. Mierzwiński cannot come to us, because he was under the roof of Berlin and has been adopted.".

Mierzwiński made also guest appearances in Dresden, Dessau, at the Berlin Krolloper, in Madrid (8/11/30 October 1881, Guillaume Tell with Fanny Toresella, Francesco Pandolfini, Francisco Uetam, Gaetano Róvere; 9 February 1882, Robert le diable with Josephine de Reszke, María Flores, Francisco Uetam), Monte Carlo (1884), New York (1882, Academy of Music), Prague (1884), Budapest (1886), Napoli (1892), and he undertook a tour to Russia (1887).

Mierzwiński developed problems on his vocal chords and had to have throat surgery. He tried to pursue his career in Poland and Ukraine without much success. He stopped altogether in 1896.

Mierzwiński lost his money gambling and had to work as an hotel doorman in Paris to earn money. On July 14th, 1909, Mierzwiński died in Paris in poverty and obscurity. The weekly "The World" reported from Paris: "The death of the tenor king passed unnoticed here, and barely a handful of people followed his coffin. "

The man who had generously supported all possible philanthropic actions, at the end of life was abandoned by his countrymen, despite various appeals. He was a star who was quickly forgotten.
Reference 1
Reference 2

Władysław Mierzwiński as Arnold
Władysław Mierzwiński as Raoul in London

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