Lottery for a Husband (1908-1909)

In the spring of 1908 Szymanowski stayed in Lvov. He was twenty five years old and, according to the information imparted in letters to friends he “got through an awful lot of money in Italy” and was “as poor as a church mouse.” He shared his idea of writing an operetta with the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg. Both belonged to the Publishing Company of Young Polish Composers, and perhaps this was to have the flavour of a bachelors’ adventure, just a “flighty trifle to improve income”. Julian Krzewiński was recommended to Szymanowski as librettist. He had ambitions as a dramatist, and as an actor on the operetta stage in Lvov he knew that that genre guaranteed success at the box office. Plays by Polish authors were not being performed there at that time, so perhaps this idea did offer some real hope of providing serious financial reward.
Krzewiński provided the composer with a libretto called: Loteria na mężów, czyli Narzeczony nr 69 albo Główna wygrana [Lottery for a Husband: Fiancé No. 69 or The Main Prize]. The plot takes place in contemporary United States of America (Krzewiński did indeed travel the world). A lottery at a fair offers a well-to-do bachelor as a prize. Darly Helgoland (son of a car manufacturer Tobias), who is in love with Sara, enters his name on the list of prizes. The vicissitudes of their love story, which ends in an engagement, take place against a background of various situations involving Merry Widowers, Negroes mingling with the crowds, a driver called Jack, and Sherlock Holmes as a guest at the engagement party. One can guess at the content only through studying the list of characters and the short stage instructions which precede the eighteen musical numbers written by Szymanowski. The libretto has been lost, and by the same token so has the spoken text which combined all the numbers into one whole: Sara’s Romance, the musical duet of the Helgoland brothers, the chorus of the Widowers with the cake-walk rhythm, the Song-chanson of the old maid Miss Huck, the couplets of Tobias Helgoland, a ballad about an Indian chief, a serenade by a chorus of young men, an ensemble of Sara’s girlfriends, waltzes and cadrilles, not to mention the extended finales of all three acts. The composer anticipated a cast of fifteen soloists and one spoken part, a four-voice mixed chorus and … an enormous orchestra, such as no musical theatre in Poland possessed at the time, with double the numbers of wood instruments, wind ones as for Mahler (four French horns, three trombones, two trumpets and a tuba!), a pair of harps and a sizeable percussion with timpani.
Szymanowski spent a year writing this score, almost grinding his teeth. In 1909 the work was given for appraisal to a renowned musician, Piotr Maszyński (the librettist’s father), who judged it to be an “exceptionally interesting compositional experiment applied to a trifling subject”. While Szymanowski was in Vienna in 1912 it seemed that there might be a chance of staging the operetta there, and he commissioned a German translation of the libretto. And that seems to have been the end of his interest in his own composition. As Teresa Chylińska points out, he consistently obliterated it from his legacy as a composer, since it was written “on the far periphery of his real creative effort, for occasional purposes and commercial reasons.” The extant copies of the scores do not even carry his name. However, that is the fate of great composers. Once they are gone, their inquisitve descendants disregard their wishes, they examine in depth each day of the great ones’ lives, each note that had been written down. They will not let anything escape. And perhaps that is right. An operetta, written in one’s youth, and against … – that is, after all, an interesting episode in a biography (and it receives interesting treatment in an essay by Dobrochna Ratajczakowa Karol Szymanowski pisze operetkę [Karol Szymanowski writes an operetta], in: Opera polska w XX wieku [Polish Opera in the Twentieth Century], Poznań 1999).
The autograph of the piano score was found in 1919, in the revue theatre “Qui-Pro-Quo” in Warsaw. It was passed to Zdzisław Jachimecki and published as a facsimile by PWM in 1998 in the series Dzieła Karola Szymanowskiego (Volume 26a). A manuscript copy of the score is held in the collection of the Polish Radio Library. Grzegorz Fitelberg included fragments of Loteria in the concert programme of the Grand Symphonic Polish Radio Orchestra in 1952. Fragments of Szymanowski’s operetta were also performed during the Witold Lutosławski Festival in Szczecin in 2004, the stage premiere (with the libretto completed by Wojciech Graniczewski) took place on November 5. 2007 at Cracow Opera under direction of Piotr Sułkowski.