Czesława Gospodarek (10 June 1938 - 5 December 2011), known by her stage name Violetta Villas, was a Belgian-born Polish and international cabaret star, singer, actress, composer and songwriter. Her voice was characterized as coloratura soprano. She could play the piano, violin, and trombone and had absolute pitch. She has been nicknamed "the voice of the atomic age", "the singing toast of the continent", "a voice like French champagne", "Polish Yma Sumac". Villas was the first star of the Casino de Paris at Dunes Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas (1966-1971).
Villas was known for her conspicuous, outstanding appearance and numerous number-one hits. During her career in show business Villas starred in six films, performed in numerous musical shows, and recorded almost three hundred songs in ten languages, including Polish, English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Neapolitan, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese. She was an animal rights activist.
Villas was a very controversial person for her alcohol and morphine addiction and being a Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs informant with a code name Gabriella. Moreover she had a delusional disorder, which has a bad influence on her contacts with her environment and family.
In 2011, Villas received the Medal for Merit to Culture - Gloria Artis.
Villas was born in Heusy, Liège province, the third of four children. She spent her childhood in Belgium. Her father Bolesław Cieślak (4 December 1907 - 9 May 1960) was a miner and bandmaster, and her mother Jane (26 January 1914 - 17 February 1985) was a housewife. In 1948 she came with her parents to Poland and settled in Lewin Kłodzki where she began studying music. She played the piano and violin in her youth.
In 1956 she began studying solo singing at the State Musical High School in Szczecin. She continued her artistic education in Wrocław with a professor Gisela Posh. In 1959 she began classical vocal lessons with a professor Eugenia Falkowska in Warsaw. Her 5-octave vocal range and timbre abilities were significant, worthy of a promising operatic career, but she had decided to pursue more contemporary forms of music, touring and giving vocal performances on stage.
1960-1965: Early career:
In 1960 Villas was given her debut on Polskie Radio by its director of music, Władysław Szpilman. Her first broadcast songs were Gdy zakwitną czereśnie and Ja nie mogę tamtej drugiej znieść. She recorded her first album, "Rendez-vous with Violetta Villas" in 1962. She received her first noteworthy prize at the Sopot Festival in 1961 and 1962. In 1964, 1965 and 1966 she performed at National Festival of Polish Song in Opole.
In the early 1960s Villas toured many countries in Europe, including Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, also in United States, Canada and Israel.
In 1964 at the National Festival of Polish Song in Opole she was approached by Bruno Coquatrix, who invited her to France. At the 3rd Festival International des Variétés et Music-Halls in Rennes, Villas received her Grand Prix International d'Interpretation (she sang including Ave Maria). In 1965 she performed at Fontaine Theatre (show Roue de la Chance, director - André Chanu). In 1966, at a personal request of Bruno Cocquatrix, Villas appeared in the Grand Music Hall de Varsovie, revue program at Olympia. The premiere was 26 July 1966. Villas sang including Ave Maria no Morro and Hiroshima Mon Amour. In Paris she was approached by Frederic Apcar, who invited her to Las Vegas.
1966-1971: Las Vegas and Casino de Paris:
In December 1966 Villas was the star of the Casino de Paris at Dunes Hotel & Casino, where she sang songs, operettas and operatic arias in nine languages. In her first program she sang including "Under Paris Skies", "Granada", "O Sole Mio", "Strangers in the Night" and "Libiamo ne' lieti calici". Villas sang in duets with Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Barbra Streisand, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin.
Her personal stylist was Patrick Valette, a Frenchman from fashion house Dior. She performed her show with a hundred-person French ballet. She lived in a villa with private swimming pool. In late 60s Villas recorded twenty songs for an American Television and Capitol Records. In March 1968 began a screen test for MGM film studio, where she was later signed to a movie contract. She acted in films including: the musical "Paint your wagon" with Lee Marvin and the western "Heaven with a gun" with Glenn Ford.
1971-1987: Isolation and great comeback:
Villas was offered a lucrative eight-year contract with Paramount Pictures but turned it down because of her mother's illness which saw her to return to Poland. Later in the 1970s Villas had to return to Poland to her dying mother. Authorities of the Communist regime confiscated her passport, and she was forced to stay in Poland for more than a decade. However, she was not completely banned from the media and was able to pursue her career locally. In 1985 she had her great comeback, just a few years after martial law ended. The performances were sold out even weeks beforehand. Authorities returned her passport, and she resumed her international career. She later toured the USA and Australia.
In 1987 she went to the tour, "Violetta" after the United States and Canada. The premiere was September 14 at Carnegie Hall, where she received a standing ovation. In New York her concert was sold out. Villas performed in Las Vegas, Denver, Miami, Texas, Montreal and Chicago.
In 1954, when she was 16, Villas married lieutenant Gospodarek but they divorced just two years later in September 1956. Her parents had pressured her into the marriage but she did not truly love him. She left her husband to study music in Szczecin. They had one child, Krzysztof Gospodarek.
In 1987 she met an American businessman and millionaire of Polish descent, Ted Kowalczyk, and married him on 6 January 1988 in Chicago. The wedding ceremony was held at a banquet room of the "Orbit" Restaurant, a fixture of Chicago's Polish Village. They divorced in December 1988. He gave many interviews in the media about their marriage, but she said on a TV show "I made an error, that I believed so fast."
Villas died on 5 December 2011 in Lewin Kłodzki at the age of 73.
Villas was a soprano whose voice had an extraordinary register and a very wide range of vocal color. It covered five octaves from the baritone middle E2 to the soprano E7. Villas' best range was from C4 to C6. In her songs she showed a remarkable ability for naturally assimilative styles and for eliciting a multiplicity of voices. Villas could perform as a baritone, tenor, contralto, mezzo-soprano, and as a soprano, a unique attribute amongst singers of any gender, in the fields of both classical and popular music.
Before Villas started her theatre career in Poland, she performed in international revue shows in France and United States. In 1978 she played at the Grand Theatre in Łódź in the musical show Kochajmy się. In the 1970s/80s Villas was a star of the Siren Theatre in Warsaw. Villas played several roles in her theatre career, including Lygia in Trzeci program (The third programme, 1978) and the main role in the revue Violetta (1986-1988). In 1986 she returned to theatre, performing in Violetta with an orchestra and ballet.
In 1992, Villas played in the musical Hello, Dolly! at Cracow Operetta House. In the 1990s she performed at Warsaw Operetta House in her own programme, The Violetta Villas Show.