Jan Kiepura

Ach, so fromm by Friedrich von Flotow

As Don Jose in Carmen by Georges Bizet


Jan Wiktor Kiepura – a world-famous opera singer, stage performer, movie star, and highly regarded artist, adore by the audience – was a legend already during his lifetime. He was one of the greatest and most popular tenors of the 20th century. Kiepura was endowed with an exceptionally beautiful voice and attractive appearance. He mastered the vocal techniques to perfection. The artist achieved the peak of success thanks to his talent, persistence, extremely hard work and self-creation. Some people saw the secret of his extraordinary success in the joy of singing ‘that he possessed almost instinctively, as it arose his serene and amiable nature’. According to the Italian educator Griorgio Favaretto, ‘with the above virtue, Kiepura beat all his rivals, who used to sing with sadness in their voice… it also opened the doors to his acting career…’

The popularity of the tenor was second to none. It’s generally believed that ‘he triggered a collective madness that could be compared to present reactions to the greatest successes of a football star’.
It is widely known that Jan Kiepura was an ambassador of Polish culture in the world and a pride of our country. While staying abroad he incessantly manifested his Polish identity. He also made Sosnowiec (the city he was a contemporary of) famous. It was the place where the tenor was born, the place where he spent his childhood and youth, where his personality was moulded and the dreams about the world singing career was born. Kiepura liked alluding to his roots. He used to call himself a “boy from Sosnowiec” and soon this name stuck to the eminent tenor for good. ‘In spite of hundreds of other names he used to be call,’ to quote Wacław Panek, J. Kiepura’s biographer, ‘none of them expressed better the artist’s psyche, attitude toward life, and the way of thinking, than the one indicating his Sosnowiec roots. Looking carefully through the tenor’s biography, opinions of the witnesses, preserved correspondence and other documentation, today I am fully convinced that he really remained a boy from Sosnowiec throughout his entire life.’

In October 1921, fulfilling hi father’s wish, Kiepura enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Warsaw, as he didn’t manage to make his parents warm to his plans of vocal studies. Even the positive opinion of Professor Brzeziński didn’t help. Franciszek Kiepura wanted his son to get a “decent” profession that could guarantee a sense of stability. However, Jan never gave up his dreams about an artistic career. Soon after he arrived in Warsaw, he took steps to achieve his goal. While studying law, who took private lessons in singing under the supervision of Professor Brzeziński, one of the most outstanding vocal tutors. Kiepura remained under his artistic care for many years.

In February 1924 he passed an examination in the Warsaw Opera (performing arias from Huguenots, Carmen, and Tosca) and he was admitted as a trainee. He cherished a hope that in the future he would be singing solo part on this stage. He prepared himself conscientiously for this moment by practising Faust by Ch. Gounod during lessons given by Professor Brzeziński.

Unexpectedly, as early as at the end of February he gave a public performance in the Warsaw Conservatory Hall, replacing a sick tenor. He performed arias from Halka by Moniuszko, Pagliacci by R. Leoncavallo, and Tosca by Puccini. This unscheduled debut turned out to be very successful, and he received a long ovation from the audience. In the Opera he was given a minor role of the highlanders choir conductor, in Halka. The solo part he was going to perform was quite short; it was just one verse of text. Unfortunately, for drawling the last sound (which was done on purpose, as Kiepura wished to show off his voice) he was sacked by the then director Emil Młynarski.

Kiepura also failed to carry out his university responsibilities, so he had to return to Sosnowiec in the middle of 1924. He moved in with his schoolmate Mieczysław Szafruga, because his father didn’t want to see him any more, after he had given up his law studies.