Friday, November 21, 2008

Lem: The Opera

From Gazeta Wyborca, via the amazing polymathic Allen Varney, the discovery of Stanislaw Lem's secret dystopian opera:

Stanisław Lem's Unpublished Works Discovered

An uncompromising NKVD man named Utterly Inadvisabiladze, a brave Soviet spy Dementiy Dogsonov, who's lost his eye trying to spy on the imperialists through the keyhole, an ideological communist Avdotia Niedoganina, brilliant academician Michurenko (student of Lysurin), and above all Stalin - as always superhumanly intelligent and inhumanly smiling. These are the main characters of a satirical piece by Stanisław Lem, which the author himself for half a century thought missing.

Lem, who gained worldwide recognition for his SF novels, wrote it in the late 1940s, at the height of Stalinism, when people were being imprisoned or even executed for far lesser trespasses. Twenty years later, in the 1960s, writer Janusz Szpotański received a very special literary prize for his unpublished musical satire The Silent and the Honkers - three years in prison.

Lem's piece is similar in some aspects to the Szpotański lampoon. Written during his student times, it is a quasi-opera about the brilliant future of communism and Stalin's genius. Lem read it only for his closest friends - Roman Husarski and his future wife, Halina Burton, as well as, among others, writers Jan Józef Szczepański and Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski.

Among those admitted to his closest circle was medicine student Barbara Leśniak, who was later to become the writer's wife.

'The first time I heard this piece was when Staszek was still a bachelor, around 1949, I think', remembers Barbara Lem. 'He enacted all the characters himself, and he was best in the woman's role. He performed the piece for as long as Stalin lived - he obviously needed this kind of abreaction'.

Lem mentioned the missing piece in numerous interviews, including those given to Stanisław Bereś and Tomasz Fijałkowski. 'We've turned everything upside down here. I still hope it surfaces somewhere', Lem told Bereś.

Also the writer's secretary, Wojciech Zemek, for years searched for the piece. 'From time to time Mr Lem would ask me whether I'd already found it, and I'd reply regretfully that I hadn't', remembers Mr Zemek. 'And yet I held the folder containing it so many times in my hands!'

The folder, an old-style grey cardboard, ribbon-tied folder, was inscribed 'Botched crime story' and contained an unfinished Raymond Chandler-style crime novel that Lem started writing in the mid-1950s. It has now turned out he used that typescript to create a hiding place so perfect the text went missing for five decades - he simply slid the Stalin opera between the pages of the crime novel typescript.

'I always knew that every one of Lem's pieces has a second bottom - even a botched crime story can hide an opera about Stalin!', commented Mr Zemek.

Translated by Marcin Wawrzyńczak

Źródło: Gazeta Wyborcza

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