Opera in three acts
Libretto: Alfred Nossig
World premiere: 29 May 1901, Dresden
Premiere of this production: 12 October 2018, Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera
Co-produced with the Poznań Opera House
Sung in Polish with English surtitles

It was not ambition, but financial trouble that brought Paderewski to the shores of America in 1891. The new continent hailed him as a wizard of the keyboard. He himself hoped at the time that the keyboard wouldn’t be the end of it and that the world would grow to appreciate him also as a composer. The draft of his first opera, based on Kraszewski’s novel The Cottage Outside the Village [Chata za wsią], was ready. The libretto was penned by the journalist and sculptor Alfred Nossig, while the composer continued to rework subsequent versions of the piece in his spare time between concerts. It took several years. In the meantime he got married, became a father, was widowed, remarried and lost his son. The handicapped boy died in 1901 – the same year that Manru premiered in Dresden. Next it opened in Lviv a few days later, and in the States in February 1902, making history as the first Polish opera ever to be staged at the Metropolitan Opera. After a brief triumph it became forgotten for many years. What will the director Marek Weiss find in this touching tale of unhappy love played out against the background of a class society – especially in our world of awakening nationalisms and growing intolerance? Without a doubt the lovers’ rapture, gypsy marches and the frenetic element of Paderewski’s only opera will impress with their superb sound world, at the same time surprising us with the piece’s timeless relevance.

Cast

Credits

Chorus and Orchestra of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

Dancers of Biały Teatr Tańca (White Dance Theatre)

Extras and children from the ARTOS children choir

Synopsis

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    ACT 1

    The villagers are preparing for an important celebration. Wealthy organizer Jadwiga laments that her daughter Ulana is involved with Manru, a Gypsy, a foreigner both culturally and racially, which to her and the whole village is an unforgivable crime. Hatred of the Other is stronger than parental love, and the wayward daughter additionally arouses her anger by the very fact of disobedience. She is further incited to anger by Urok, a shady character who serves as the village’s supplier of mind-changing substances and herbs. He appears to encourage the mother to show mercy, but having loved Ulana for a long time himself, he cannot stand the thought of her love for the Gypsy and their happy relationship which has resulted in the birth of a child. A lonely and bitter man, his heart is torn between hatred towards Manru and love for Ulana. When the latter arrives to ask her mother to help ease the poverty she suffers with her child, Urok torments the woman he desires with a vision of the misfortunes that will befall her for being with a foreigner. However, he gives in to her pleas, supported by the hope that his desire might be satisfied. Keen to obtain herbs that would restore the passion which kept the Gypsy drawn to her body, Ulana doesn’t shatter Urok’s hopes. The mother demands that her daughter abandon Manru and return to her family home with her child, or else she must leave forever. Ulana’s love is unwavering and she chooses misfortune at her husband’s side. Enraged by this impudence, the xenophobic community is roused to greater aggression against the “traitor”, augmented by the local menfolk’s widespread desire for the lovely “Gypsy wench”, as they refer to her contemptuously. Manru comes to his sweetheart’s rescue and, prepared to lay down his life for her, saves her from the rabble. Shielded by Jadwiga, they escape to their “hut beyond the village”.

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    ACT 2

    Ulana is taking care of the child while Manru is busy with his scrap metal. They are plagued by poverty and discouraged by a life with no prospects and no sense of security. It is impossible to go on like this much longer, and recalling their former passion fails to improve the mood. Manru feels that the price he is paying for abandoning a world in which he was free and important is too high. They are visited by Urok, who keeps hanging around his beloved Ulana, but since he is the only person in the surrounding world without any xenophobic hatred, Manru tolerates him. The Gypsy doesn’t know that the visitor has brought Ulana’s promised potion to rekindle her husband’s desire for her. Suddenly violin music starts playing, and it has a magical influence on Manru’s heart, evoking memories from his past life when he loved the Gypsy beauty Aza. His old friend Jagu has come, on a mission to bring Manru back to the Gypsy community. Urok fully supports this mission, hoping to get Ulana for himself. But Manru is faithful to her and turns down Jagu’s proposal that he come back to rule over the Gypsies and abandon the rural backwater. Happy, Ulana gives her husband the potion brought by Urok. As in every legend about this kind of “designer drug”, its effect is illusory and temporary. Manru flees from the “stuffy hut”, leaving his wife and the child who obviously means less to him than his personal freedom.

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    ACT 3

    The Gypsies draw near, free nomads without residence and the values that go with it. They have their own values, among which staying faithful to tribal bonds is actually similar to any other community. Aza, happy that her beloved Manru has been found, cannot stand the fact that Gypsy chief Oros and most of the others treat Manru like a traitor and don’t want to take him in. He, too, cannot decide if he can really abandon his wife and child to start the new life with which Aza tries to tempt him. Jagu is here again with the trusty violin player; he convinces the Gypsies to accept Manru, and Manru to stay with Aza after all. To make this work, he has to get rid of Oros and replace him as the chief of this community of itinerant lovers of freedom. Since power can seldom be seized without bloodshed, Manru’s new life is tainted with violence from the outset. They leave for the unknown that could become their heaven or their hell. Ulana arrives, searching for her beloved husband. She asks Urok to get him back for her. But it is too late. When the devastated girl wants to take her own life, Urok brings her young son to her, saving them both from doom and his own soul from all-powerful evil.

Sponsors

  • Patron of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

  • Logo Perlage
  • Logo Sisley
  • Logo Albert Riele
  • Co-produced with

  • Partner premiery

  • Partners of the reception

  • Media patron