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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. The Haunted Manor. Photo copyright (c) Derek Speirs.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. The Haunted Manor. Photo copyright (c) Derek Speirs.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 25th 1999 


Festival continues till Oct 31 (Box Office : +353 53 22144; Office : 22400).

The Wexford Festival Opera website, giving detailed information about this year's operas plus a further selection of colour photos, can be visited at

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