Ignacy Jan Paderewski

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

Ecstatic crowds, women passing out among a general frenzy of excitement, feverish young ladies fighting for a better spot by the stage, scores of female fans queueing in front of hotels, welcome committees with bands at railway stations, themed merchandise raging from shampoos, to toys, to wigs, to lollypops with the likeness of the idol… However surprising, this is not a report from the latest tour of one of today’s pop stars. This was how the United States reacted to a series of concerts by a Polish pianist in 1891. Over the course of 117 days  Ignacy Jan Paderewski gave 107 performances in America, and the adoration he inspired never wavered. Dubbed ‘paddymania’, the fever was the reason why Paderewski’s only stage work, Manru, was put on at the Metropolitan Opera in New York before it was staged in Warsaw and remains the only opera by a Polish composer ever shown at the Met. Musicologists think highly of it, listing the solo violin parts inspired by Romani music and ballet interludes as particularly attractive features. The work also abounds in obvious classical inspirations, with Aza the Gypsy quoting Carmen’s ‘tra la la la’ almost verbatim. The director, Marek Weiss, also makes some classical references. In his take of the opera, Gypsies become hippies, while their horses are replaced by motorbikes, just like in Adam Hanuszkiewicz’s now iconic 1974 staging of Balladyna. (Weiss used to be Hanuszkiewicz’s assistant in the old days.) The tale of exclusion, xenophobia and crowd aggression fuelled by stereotypes bears unfortunate relevance today, on the centenary of Polish independence, the anniversary being the obvious reason to dust off this forgotten title.



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


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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.


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  • Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera

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