■ The final act of ‘Manru’ in Warsaw, with (centre, on bike) Peter Berger in the title role and Monika Ledzion-Porczyńska as Aza far from derivative and actually seems to anticipate Ravel’s Tzigane in the magnificently extended passages for a ‘dark fiddler’ (played on stage here by Maciej Ufniak) and cimbalom. Yet in Act 3 Paderewski creates something new and original, a powerful example of Polish late Romanticism. The presence of a children’s chorus (here the excellent Władysław Skoraczewski ARTOS Children’s Choir) may again call to mind Carmen, and the near-suicidal Ulana (who changes her mind when her young son appears) anticipates Cio-Cio-San, but this is surely the opera that Rachmaninov (who penned his own gypsy work, Aleko, as a student) would like to have written.
Weiss’s updated production made the political message clear but never laboured it—indeed, one of the great virtues of this staging was its storytelling clarity, achieved through pertinent Personenregie and committed acting. In Kaspar Glarner’s designs, each act echoed the music by having a distinctive look. The first act was set against the backdrop of a provincial wedding celebration, with all the chintz that implies, the second portrayed the shabby poverty of the central couple’s domestic life, and the third supplied a visual coup when the gypsy band advanced downstage riding motorbikes on the open road, their headlights trained on Manru. Izadora Weiss’s contemporary choreography with her own dancers of the Biały Teatr Tańca made integrated spectacle of the highland dance scene of Act 1, and the chorus fulfilled its big role with a brilliance that matched the orchestra.
It is Jadwiga who (together with the chorus) sets the opera in motion, with a powerful lament. Anna Lubańska’s warm-voiced performance made the character almost sympathetic, though her formidable persona soon came through—the atmosphere was charged by the time her daughter appeared, to be greeted by the chorus as a ‘gypsy wench’. In a role created by Marcella Sembrich, no less, Ewa Tracz had lyrical power
Opera, December 2018