Operas from POLAND

By Matthew-Walker, Robert | Musical Opinion, March/April 2004 | Go to article overview
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Operas from POLAND


Matthew-Walker, Robert, Musical Opinion


In April, the Polish National Opera visits Britain, to present three operas by Polish composers in a short season. Robert Matthew-Walker outlines the background to the Company's visit.

Opera afficionados in the know are already looking forward with no little anticipation to the visit to London in April of the Polish National Opera, who are to present three important operas by Polish composers at Sadler's Wells Theatre. This will be the first visit ever to the UK of the National Opera Company of Poland, which marks also the entry of Poland into the European Union on 1 May. The three operas are Stanislaw Moniuszko's The Haunted Manor, Krzysztof Penderecki's Ubu Rex and Karol Szymanowski's King Roger, the first two fully staged but King Roger given as a concert performance.

All three operas are very rarely encountered works and it is much to be hoped that this visit will not only afford an opportunity to hear authentic interpretations of what many will regard as unjustly neglected scores, but also do much to enlighten the opera going public to the significance of Polish music.

Born on 5 May 1819 in Ubiel in Vilnius, the present capital of Lithuania, at that time dominated by Poland, Stanislaw Moniuszko is widely regarded as the father of Polish opera and The Haunted Manor forms one of the cornerstones of the national repertory. His music is little known in western Europe but recent recordings have done a lot to awaken interest in this fascinating figure, undoubtedly the most important Polish composer next to Chopin: indeed, although Chopin was nine years older, the two were for a time fellow students at the Warsaw Conservatory. While Chopin wrote nothing for the stage, Moniuszko certainly compensated, with a number of works for the theatre.

The Haunted Manor was begun in 1861 and worked on until January 1863 when there was an uprising resulting in Russian domination. Moniuszko hastened to complete the score but when he submitted the text to the Russian censor in 1864 much of the nationalistic sentiment was cut. he moved to Warsaw where the opera was first staged in the Wielki Theatre on 29 September 1865, conducted by the composer. The acclaim was so great that the Russian censor banned it after only three performances and the opera was not staged again in Moniuszko's lifetime and not in Warsaw again until 1914. In fact, it took 130 years to reach London!

The story capitalises on the unrest in that its inherent nationalism, together with the strong dual romantic thread which runs concurrently alongside the eerie hauntings of the eponymous home, combines with other factors to produce a grand opera of no little artistic merit. Opera lovers are especially directed to Stefan's aria in the Third Act, which enjoys a separate life as a famous operatic excerpt. It is exciting news also that EMI are to release a new recording of The Haunted Manor on 5 April this year, to coincide with the Polish National Opera Company's visit. This production was first staged in Warsaw in February 2001. There are two performances of The Haunted Manor, on 20 and 21 April.

The single concert performance of Szymanowski's King Roger takes place on 22 April.

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