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Inspection Report VI

A Few Words about
Theatres in Warsaw
Where Sang Irene Adler

Joanna Polatynska
with Catharina Polatynska

The Diogenes Club:  Link to the Norwood Building Inspectors:  The Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia

In Mr. Holmes' index, between that of a Hebrew Rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep-sea fishes, there is a concise biography of Irene Adler.  Let me remind you of that.  It runs thus:

"Born in New Jersey in the year 1858. Contralto (...). La Scala (...). Prima donna Imperial Opera of Warsaw (...). Retired from operatic stage (...). Living in London."

It is a record of a pretty nice career, isn't it?  Everything seems to be in order, with only one exception.  There was no such stage as the Imperial Opera of Warsaw.  In that case the question arises: where did she sing?  To answer this, we have to consider when Miss Adler was in Warsaw.  The King of Bohemia said, that he had met her "some five years ago, during a lengthy visit to Warsaw".  As we all know, the King visited Baker Street 221b on March 20th, 1888.  Then, "five years ago" indicates theatrical season 1882/1883. 

In that year only two theatres in Warsaw were open.  Russian occupant authorities closed three other stages, so we can easily pass them over in our deliberations. Those open were Warsaw Governmental Theatre and Rozmaitosci Theatre.  As to the Rozmaitosci Theatre, we can leave it as well because only tragedies and dramas were performed there:  Moliere, Shakespeare, Corneille etc, and because we know that Ms Adler was the Prima donna, we hardly could expect her to play Lady Macbeth.  In this way we have only one left and this is the Warsaw Governmental Theatre. 

The Warsaw Governmental Theatre was a Russian name for the oldest Polish theatre - The National Theatre, also called The Grand Theatre, because of the building where it was settled.  The Warsaw Governmental Theatre was composed of three stages: Drama, Ballet and Opera Stage.  From the very beginning it was the most important Polish scene.  Premieres of many dramas and operas were performed there.  Famous foreign artists visited the Warsaw Governmental Theatre quite frequently.  In the year 1885 the Meiningen Theatre, the illustrious German group of 19th century, played there.  In 1909 Sarah Bernhardt performed in Warsaw her famous role of Rostand's "L'aiglon".  Then Ada Sari, Rita Sachetto, Gemma Bellicioni and Gwendolyn Bradley.  Finally, Ewa Godlewska and Jose Cura are going to sing in Warsaw within a month of this writing. 

But is it possible, that any foreign actress was a Prima donna of Polish Theatre?
Unfortunately, the chronicles of Polish theatre, those which survived two World Wars, say nothing about any foreigner who belonged to the staff of The National Theatre.  However, it happened that a foreign theatre company played there for a whole season - that was the Meiningen Theatre mentioned above.  If a famous singer had been invited to play in one theatre for a whole year, he or she would have been the main singer for sure.  Then, knowing that that was the only operatic stage in Warsaw, we suggest that if Irene Adler had ever played in Warsaw, she played in The Warsaw Governmental Theatre. 

Finally we have the last question to consider - why Warsaw?  The King of Bohemia could easily have met the well-known American actress in Prague, Cracow, Vienna or any other European city.  We believe that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle chose Warsaw because of a person, who perhaps was the model for Irene Adler.  That person was the Polish actress of international fame, Miss Helena Modjeska.

Miss Helena Modjeska was the main actress of The National Theatre until 1876, when she left Warsaw and went to San Francisco, California.  In 1883 she became an American citizen.  In years 1880 - 1885 she played in London, where Sir Arthur might have seen her.  As to her private life, it was quite similar to Miss Adler's. She was very popular and she had lived rather gay life in high society until she married Count Chlapowsky and became the loving and faithful wife.  Miss Modjeska had several artistic tours in the United States and Europe.  After she became American, she performed several times in Warsaw and Cracow.  So, as you can see, the American actress in Warsaw was not as improbable as it might have seemed. 

In this essay we have tried to prove that Irene Adler might have played in Warsaw and that the only problem was the name of the theatre.  But, we have to add that Sir Arthur's mistake is more or less understandable.  There had been an Imperial Theatre and Opera in Moscow since 1776 (The Bolshoi Theatre nowadays), and remembering that in the 19th century Warsaw was the capital of one of the provinces of Russian Empire, "the Imperial Opera" would have been quite an appropriate name.  As Mr. Holmes used to say, it was a long shot. But unfortunately, this time it missed. 

Presented for
Joanna Polatynska, "The Adventure of the Dying Detective"
Catharina Polatynska, "The Problem of Thor Bridge"
David N. Cisler, "A Study in Scarlet"
The Norwood Building Inspectors
The Sherlock Holmes Society of Charleston, West Virginia
November 21, 2000

(c) Copyright 2000, Joanna Polatynska with Catharina Polatynska, All Rights Reserved

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