Moniuszko: Hrabina (The Countess)
Karen Gardeazabal, Natalia Rubiś, Rafał Bartmiński; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (NIFC)
Hrabina (The Countess)
Karen Gardeazabal, Natalia Rubiś, Rafał Bartmiński; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
Frederick Chopin Institute NIFCCD 089 120:00 mins (2 discs)
A national icon in his home country, where a couple of his works form part of the permanent repertoire, Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-72) is little known elsewhere, but the steady appearance of more of his operas on recordings gives one a chance to assess his qualities.
Premiered in Warsaw in 1860, Hrabina (The Countess) is essentially a comedy, though a work with a moral. The woman in the title role places a strong reliance on the superficial values of fashionable high society, which ultimately (and to her regret) costs her the love of Kazimierz, who finally chooses the simpler, more sincere Bronia.
There’s a sense in which his preference reflects the composer’s wish to write in a more purely national idiom, involving the use of popular Polish dances such as the mazurka and polonaise, rather than the international styles he parodies as the product of foreign composers (secondary character Ewa sings an aria sending up the Italian style).
This first complete recording is founded on the period-instrument ensemble that under their artistic director recently championed other works by the composer: Flis (1858) and Halka (1857 version).
This is a full-length piece with substantial amounts of dialogue, largely couched in an attractive lighter vein that recalls the Frenchopéra-comique tradition and may even be seen as prefiguring operetta, though frankly not a great deal of it is memorable.
The cast is entirely capable, with strong standouts from Karen Gardeazabal (Countess) and Rafał Bartmiński (Kazimierz).