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Moniuszko: Flis (The Raftsman)

Ewa Tracz, Matheus Pompeu, et al; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (NIFC)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Flis (The Raftsman)
Ewa Tracz, Matheus Pompeu, Mariusz Godlewski, Aleksander Teliga, Wojtek Gierlach, Pawel Cichonski; Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
Frederic Chopin Institute NIFCCD 086   60:01 mins

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Born in 1819 in Belarus – then on the outskirts of a Poland partitioned by Russia and under Tsarist rule – Stanisław Moniuszko is long-revered as the ‘father of Polish national opera’. Incorporating Belarusian and Lithuanian material, his work is suffused with Polish dance forms and folk elements that dare to celebrate the richness and colour of peasant life in the face of a repressive semi-feudalism.

The short, one-act Flis (The Raftsman, 1858), libretto by Stanisław Bogusławski, sits between his great operas Halk and Straszny Dwór. Flis may hardly rank beside them but, as this delightful first ever period-instrument recording shows, deserves far wider hearing. It’s a slight but life-enhancing tale of love between social classes that triumphs over paternal opposition: Zosia is eventually united with her raftsman lover Franek, whose hairdresser rival, Jakub, happily turns out to be his long-lost brother.

The River Vistula setting is arguably as important as the characters, who invoke its stormy, pastoral glory in melodies inflected with rhythmic stresses mirroring the Polish language. The choral writing in particular is lovely – notably a raftsmen’s song accompanied by low, lilting strings – and the whole is wrought with a clarity and integrity matched by conductor Fabio Biondi’s assembled forces. Uncontrived and alert to moments of humour – ‘Do you know who I am?’ ‘Sir, I do not!’ – a well-matched, overall fine cast is ably supported by Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Choir, with Europa Galante investing even the overlong Overture with a sprightly crispness.

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Steph Power