2013 Capital Fringe Festival Show Preview: ‘The Young Wife’ by K. Brochocka

A rare one-woman opera crosses the Atlantic

Not yet twenty years old, a sheltered girl named Gabriela was forced to marry a greedy lieutenant who only valued her for her dowry. She was miserable and trapped like so many others, but starting in 1879 this particular young lady rebelled and escaped that life, caused great scandal, travelled abroad, and eventually wrote dozens of plays and novels in defiance of the social order of the day. She took the pen name Gabriela Zapolska and became one of the great Polish feminists of the age. Interestingly, however, her writing reveals her partial reluctance to assume this role and her abiding desire to have a “normal life” – just one that also included the liberty and honesty she felt all people deserved.

Courtney Kalbacker, soprano. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.
Courtney Kalbacker, soprano. Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

This complexity, her endearing humor, and her forthright style of storytelling attracted fellow Polish artist, Katarzyna Brochocka, to Gabriela Zapolska’s work over a century later. A young female composer who has studied and garnered critical acclaim internationally, she set to work crafting a new one-woman opera. Titled The Young Wife, it is based on Zapolska’s semi-autobiographical short story “The Diary of a Young Wife,” published in 1900.And this is where I, both a performer/director and copy editor, stepped in. I met Katarzyna Brochocka in the library stacks during graduate school and somehow that initial introduction (in which she had to spend 10 minutes patiently explaining the proper pronunciation of her spectacularly consonant-crammed name) turned into a long-term trans-Atlantic operatic collaboration. Known as UNMANNED STAGECRAFT, we have been creating modern opera from start to finish since 2008. We specialize in creating and translating Polish libretti, as well as crafting, performing, and recording new operas and song collections. Our patient husbands (also both musicians) occasionally wave at each other across our weekly Skype sessions as well. They know not to interfere with their fanatical wives’ musico-dramatic obsessions.

Composer Katarzyna Brochocka. Photo by Karol Kowal.
Composer Katarzyna Brochocka. Photo by Karol Kowal.

Gabriela Zapolska’s frank and witty writing immediately resonated with both of us. In The Young Wife, Katarzyna has distilled Zapolska’s story into a series of diary entries, presented as short vignettes. Throughout the opera, the skittish Young Wife discovers unexpected ways to deal with her snippy husband, his giggling “lady-friend” and her own forbidden longings. Full of alternating pathos and playful melodrama, The Young Wife is an account of this woman’s rocky new marriage and enduring perseverance.

The 2013 Capital Fringe Festival will be the first time this opera will be performed in full. Our performance of excerpts of the work received unanimous acclaim at the Kingshead Theatre [London] last year. Speaking of this performance, director Mark Ravenhill praised the opera saying, “We were very much engaged by the freshness and directness and joy of the storytelling and the characterization…and by the accomplishment of the musicianship!” On the same occasion, composer Robert Saxton added, “I just think it’s just completely professional composing in terms of pacing of drama, the actual technical fabric of the way the music is written. It’s beautifully paced and it has the right kind of variety and sensibilities.”

Now we hope to bring the same level of energy and polish to UNMANNED STAGECRAFT’s full premiere of The Young Wife in Washington D.C. this July. To experience this intimate and entertaining presentation of Zapolska’s rare gem, please join us and treat yourself to a truly engaging piece of opera-theatre.
– Courtney Kalbacker

What: The Young Wife, a one-woman comic opera written by Katarzyna Brochocka, produced by UNMANNED STAGECRAFT

Featuring: Katarzyna Brochocka –pianist, composer and Courtney Kalbacker – soprano.

Courtney Kalbacker as 'The Young Wife.'Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.
Courtney Kalbacker as ‘The Young Wife.’Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Where: Redrum at Fort Fringe
612 L St. NW, Washington, DC 20001
Transit: MT Vernon Sq./7th St-Convention Center
Sunday, July 14th — 7:15pm
Tuesday, July 16th — 6:00pm
Sunday, July 21st — 2:45pm
Friday, July 26th — 5:45pm
Saturday, July 27th — 5:30pm


Unmanned Stagecraft is a two-woman operatic production team. Polish composer Katarzyna Brochocka and American soprano Courtney Kalbacker have maintained a trans-Atlantic collaboration since 2008. Ms. Kalbacker is a local Baltimore performer that has sung extensively with groups such as The Victorian Lyric Opera Company (Rockville), The Great Noise Ensemble (D.C.), The Silver Finch Arts Collective (D.C.) and Spotlighters Theatre (Baltimore). She has enjoyed performing in two previous Capital Fringe productions in 2012: Trial by Jury (VLOC) and Lilith (Silver Finch). Visit UnmannedStagecraft.com for more information.


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