Peter Berger, Ewa Tracz, Monika Ledzion-Porcynska, Anna Lubanska, Mikołaj Zalasiński, Dariusz Machej, Lukasz Golinski, Maciej Ufniak, Stanislaw Tomanek, Teatru Wielkiego-Opery Narodowej/ Grzegorz Nowak
National Institute Frederick Chopin NIFCDVD009 (DVD) 146 mins
‘It’s a story about the deep abyss that divides different communities, about the hate that divides different races and people that are not alike. And that’s happening right before our eyes.’ Marek Weiss, director of this 2018 production of famed Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski’s only opera from the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw, is eloquent in his bonus interview but equally so in the staging itself, which makes a strong case for its wider revival.
Premiered in German in Dresden in 1901, and quite frequently staged for some decades, Manru is now rarely performed even in the composer’s homeland. It is sung here in a Polish translation.
Ulana has married the Roma Manru, earning her mother’s curse and the disapproval of the other villagers in the Tatra Mountains setting. Yet Manru yearns for his own people and eventually abandons Ulana and their son to rejoin them, with a Roma girl in tow. Paderewski clothes this tragic tale in music that consciously imitates Roma and Polish folk models, framed in what is a lightly Wagnerian apparatus of a through-composed score using leitmotifs. The result is an accomplished and attractive piece of genuine musical and dramatic quality.
In this modern-dress production, all the roles are performed with conviction and the tensions inherent in the piece are painfully exposed. Ewa Tracz realises Ulana’s mix of strength and vulnerability, with Peter Berger displaying the conflict at the centre of Manru’s personality. Mikołaj Zalasiński is forthright as Ulana’s rejected lover, Urok.
Conductor Grzegorz Nowak marshals the substantial forces of the Polish National Opera with consistent fervour.