GLORIES OF WEXFORD
RODERIC DUNNETT reports from the continuing Opera Festival
<< Continued from yesterday
Wexford's third 'rediscovery' proved not only fascinating and tuneful,
but a rip-roaring audience success (to judge by the cheering and stamping
in the aisles). Moniuszko's Straszny Dwór (The Haunted
Manor) - virtually Poland's national opera - is a dazzling example of
tunefulness and wit cloaking a profoundly serious subtext.
Here, the national importance of certain key arias (notably those of
Miecznik, Stefan, Skoluba) was wholly masked by Michal Znaniecki's delightfully
original comic direction, a hilarious send-up which had the audience eating
from the palm of his hand.
The 'haunted manor' is in fact Poland itself, partitioned between Prussia,
Austria and Russia since the 1790s, and only just, by Chopin's time, beginning
to rebuild its national aspirations. All
the main characters directly or indirectly underline this crucial fact.
The breathtakingly beautiful duet with which Moniuszko introduces Miecznik's
two daughters, Hanna (Iwona Hossa) and Jadwiga (the gorgeous Hungarian mezzo
Viktoria Vizin) was fractionally eclipsed by the bathroom activity going
on around it; Skoluba's magnificently haunting aria (Piotr Nowacki) was
weakened by being delivered upstage, and both Stefan's heartsearing 'musical
clock' aria and Miecznik's homily on the merits of patriotism (Zenon Kowalski)
felt overshadowed by the general jollifications.
But Hanna's coloratura aria in Act IV, which earned Iwona Hossa a near-standing
ovation, permitted Moniuszko's tingling score (no mere musical parody, but
an artful and inspired fusion of Italian and German models, not to mention
a rich ensemble opera in direct line of descent from Mozart's Cosi)
to emerge in its true glorious colours. Also
pick of an all-round strong cast were Leszek Swidzinski as a Mr. Tattle-like
Damazy, bizarrely paired (in the red-and-white colours of Poland's national
flag) with Elizabeth Woods's outrageously (but aptly) overacted aunt Czesnikowa;
and as the two brothers and comrades-in-arms, Stefan and Zbigniew, the tenor
Dariusz Stachura (picking up after a vocally insecure Act I), and above
all the magnificently talented young Polish bass, Jacek Janiszewski.
Janiszewski, voted undisputed winner of last year's International Moniuszko
Vocal Competition in Warsaw by a jury headed by Irina Arkhipova, René
Kollo and Régine Crespin, has a fabulous voice and an impressive
range : major opera companies in the United States and Europe should fall
over themselves to book him up for their Sparafucile, Ferrando (Trovatore),
Sarastro, Colline or Commendatore.
Janiszewski is also a gifted oratorio singer and Lieder recitalist, well
versed (thanks to studies with Kurt Moll) in Schumann, Schubert and mainstream
German and Polish repertoire. He and his Straszny Dwór colleagues
joined in some spellbinding renderings of Polish Songs (by Moniuszko, Karlowicz
and others); likewise the Azerbaijan-born and Italian-domiciled bass, Eldar
Aliev and the Warsaw Teatr Wielki tenor soloist, Dariusz Stachura, impressed
hugely in the first of Wexford's lunchtime solo recital series. These packed
song recitals in St.Iberius's church easily rival the Wigmore Hall for the
seriousness - and the warm receptiveness - of their well-informed audiences.
Top accolade to Wexford's chorus-master, Lubomir Matl, under whose direction
this year's (largely Czech) Wexford Festival chorus produced singing of
such range of dynamic, brilliance and warmth of sound, fine tuning and attention
to detail as to pay handsome dividends all round.
Wexford's Artistic Director, Luigi Ferrari, announced at last Sunday's
Press Conference that at next year's Festival the three operas will be Tchaikovsky's
Orleanskaya Deva (The Maid of Orleans), Adolphe Adam's Si
j'etais roi, and Conchita, by Riccardo Zandonai.
Copyright © Roderic Dunnett, October
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