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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    THE HAUNTED MANOR


The director, Francesca Gilpin, never loses sight of the national theme. Nothing could be easier than to throw away the opera's centrepiece -- the famous Act III 'haunting' scene -- as abject farce. That, after all, is what it appears, and the serious message is certainly cloaked in lashings of delightful humour. But you have to retain, too, the sense of Maciej's grim, dowdy room in the Swordbearer's shuttered manor, full of musty Miss Havisham-like paraphernalia -- severe portraits, an eerie clock, the sense of time and progress ominously frozen -- being an image of Poland itself at a standstill. 1863 saw one of many clampdowns by the imposed Russian overlords following the partitions of Poland in the 1790s, left intact by the Versailles treaty. Chopin and others, like Poland's national poet, Adam Mieckiewicz, took to travelling western Europe, while -- for all the surface civility of the Warsaw-based Russian raj -- the Polish aristocracy champed at the bit. Poland had been, after all, not just vast in terrain (enfolding Lithuania, Saxony and much of the Ukraine and Belorussia) -- but Europe's only surviving elective kingship.

Jeremy Bowyer (left) as Stefan and Tim Hicks (right) as Zbigniew with Czesnikowa (Gaynor Keeble) in the Opera Omnibus staging of Moniuszko's 'The Haunted Manor'

So the 'haunted manor' is Poland itself : the warrior brothers Stefan (tenor) and Zbigniew (baritone), its potential Siegfrieds; Miecznik the Swordbearer, the nation's proud history and conscience; and his daughters Hanna and Jadwiga, the further embodiment of that conscience. The brothers must wed Poland, take up arms, and eject the by now ancien regime of tripartite oppression. Poland sleeps, and must wake. Straszny Dwór was a call to arms, much as Euripides' plays became a tonic to the militarily-oppressed Greeks of the l960s. The Russians recognised this when they shut the opera down after only three performances; surprising they let it get that far.

Members of the Huntsmans' chorus in Moniuszko's 'Straszny Dwór'


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Copyright © 26 April 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Zagreb, Croatia




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