Watch Moniuszko’s The Haunted Manor live from Poland tonight3:00, 11th November 2020
Wrocław Opera is offering a chance to see a classic opera from the Polish repertoire that is rarely staged outside Poland. Stanisław Moniuszko’s Straszny Dwor (The Haunted Manor) will be streamed live in concert from Wrocław this evening at 6pm.
The cast, assembled by Mariusz Kwiezień, the celebrated baritone and new artistic director of Wroclaw Opera, features some of Poland’s most exciting talent, including Arnold Rutkowski and Jerzy Butry as two warring brothers (Stefan and Zbigniew); and Edyta Piasecka and Elwira Janasik (as Hannah and Jadwiga, the two sisters they finally marry).
Throughout his life, Moniuszko’s music gave expression to Polish oppression under a Tsarist Russian regime. His final opera, Straszny Dwor (The Haunted Manor), opens with two soldier-brothers promising to each other not to marry because of their commitment to fighting for their country’s independence. At its premiere in 1865 audiences began to cry during Stefan’s aria ‘Cicha dokolo’ at the point where Stefan refers to Matka (Mother), as many of the audience understood this to represent their country. The metaphors did not end there, the aria about the Grandfather clock that hadn’t worked for 100 years but would chime soon represented a nation that was dormant but yearning to wake up and regain independence. Straszny Dwor was banned by the Tsarist censors after just three performances.
Moniuszko was born in Ubel, Belarus on 5 May 1819 to a Polish family at a period in history when the European map looked very different, with Poland part of the Russian empire. After studies in Berlin, he became an organist in Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) and worked hard to raise a large family. In 1848, a visit to Warsaw led to the creation of his first opera Halka, an work which embodies the spirit of Polish folk music and dance.
Though today Moniuszko’s works might seem nationalistic, in their day they embodied a spirit of revolution. When Moniuszko was born, there was no education in Polish and very few publications in Polish existed. The Russian Tsar had even taken the title ‘King of Poland’. Around 80,000 Poles were exiled to Siberia in 1864. Only in 1918 did Poland become its own country again.
Meanwhile, Moniuszko’s operas were taken up by Poles as an expression of national identity. After its Warsaw Premier in 1858, despite the dangers of censorship, the Polish folk-music and dances in Halka enjoyed enormous success, leading to Moniuszko being chosen as director of the National Opera in Warsaw.
Moniuszko died in 1872 at the age of 53. His output included at least 12 operas (four incomplete), 11 operettas, choral works, string quartets and a collection of national folksongs. His works are full of beautiful Slavic tunes as well as engaging and dramatic ensembles and thrilling dance routines featuring peasants, aristocrats and gypsies. Two operas in particular, Halka and The Haunted Manor, are considered his masterpieces.