|The "First Furman of Poland" - A Mazowsze Legend |
8/17/2006 - September 2006 issue
Stanisław Jopek (1952-2006)
The “First Furman of Poland” - A Mazowsze Legend
By Staś Kmieć
Stanislaw Jopek’s gift of voice was his present to the world.
“Vocal soloist Stanisław Jopek boasted a robust feeling of measure and control behind his bright, splendidly steady and consistent baritone. In his signature Furman (the Coachman), he soared through the tongue-twisting Old Warsaw lyrics with virtuosic aplomb.” (S. Kmieć - PAJ 1997)
Having met with Mr. Jopek inside and outside the dressing room – in the US and Poland, I enjoyed our conversations about folklore, the arts, the history of Mazowsze, Pavarotti, and the Metropolitan Opera. We shared the same first name and with that, cemented a kinship. He always had a humerous anecdote to share and was full of vitality. He will be missed.
Over his career, Stanislaw Jopek had achieved the ultimate success of a vocal artist – he was recognized and beloved by the public and the world’s stage. His performances filled with enthusiasm were anxiously anticipated in Poland and far beyond its borders. He sang over 100 popular folk songs in 36 languages, among the many: the exotic tongues of Chinese, Japanese, Finnish, Greek and Arabic. His repertoire included renowned operatic arias and songs, renditions of Chopin and Moniuszko, Christmas kolędy, and of course, folk songs. But it was his signature rendition of “Furman” that brought him acclaim, and lead to his unofficial title of “First Furman of Poland” (Pierwszy Furman Rzeczypospolitej).
Born in 1935 in Lwów, Stanisław Jopek loved to sing. His parents moved the family to Kościerzyc in Dolny Śląsk, where he went to two schools: trade school, to appease his parents’ wishes, and music school, where Staszek would be able to indulge his passion and train his strong voice.
In 1952 he had been encouraged to attend his first professional audition and was chosen to join the renowned Skolimów Song and Dance Ensemble. In a short time he was promoted to soloist status. Soon after, when Skolimów dissolved, Jopek was invited by Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska and Tadeusz Sygietyński to join the Mazowsze Song and Dance Company, and in 1956 began his artistic work with the company as vocal soloist.
Jopek confided that his initial intention was to join the company only to elude army draft: “When I arrived in Karolin (the troupe’s headquarters) and saw the beautiful girls, incredible costumes I was dumbfounded. I fell in love with Mazowsze!” He also fell in love with a dancer in the company, Maria Stankiewicz, who later became his wife.
It was in the beginning of his career with Mazowsze, while searching for new material, that Jopek came across the song “Furman.” As the song had some satirical political overtones, the lyrics were mildly adjusted and the rest is history. “I thought that a song like ‘Furman,’ I’d sing for a year… for the most two. But as it turned out I’d be singing it for all my life,” said Jopek. “Wherever I’d go, the public wanted ‘Furman.’ I have a massive repertoire of other songs, but ‘Furman’ always needed to be included.” The song has appeared in every Mazowsze concert since.
The sonorous voice of this dynamic vocalist will forever be recognizable in many a Polish home. He was synonymous with Mazowsze and admired dearly by Polonia audiences around the world. Jopek’s great talent is carried on through his two daughters: Patrycja, an eminent violinist and the popular jazz vocalist, Anna Maria.
His funeral mass took place August 7, 2006 in the Church of St. Karol Boromeusz, Warsaw and was officiated by Józef Cardinal Glemp, Primate of Poland, with guests from all over Poland in attendance,and 150 members of Mazowsze. Stanislaw Jopek was laid to rest in the Avenue of Professors at the Army Cemetary.