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Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Halka (1857)
Tatiana Borodina (soprano) - Halka; Oleh Lykhach (tenor) - Jontek; Aleksandra Buczek (soprano) - Zofia; Mariusz Godlewski (baritone) - Janusz; Radosław Zukowski (bass) - Stolnik
Chorus and Orchestra of the Wrocław Opera/Ewa Michnik
rec. Wrocław Opera, 8 September 2005. DDD
Dolby Digital 2.5/5.0. 4:3 PAL. DVD9+1
DUX 9538 [136:00]

Although the booklet of this Polish DVD gives full orchestra and chorus listings, it tells us nothing about the composer or his opera, save a synopsis. Halka is a young girl who had been seduced by Janusz; however, as the opera begins, Janusz is in the process of engagement to Zofia, Stolnik's daughter. Although in private Janusz admits his love for Halka, he asks her to leave. Jontek, who has long been in love with Halka, warns her off Janusz but she ignores his good advice. Act 2 begins with the lovely aria for Halka, “When the sun rises”. Jontek keeps on warning her, trying to make her aware of Janusz's unfaithfulness. She cracks and arrives back at Janusz's manor house, making a scene. Janusz tries to bribe Jontek to get rid of Halka. Act 3, a village scene, gives plenty of chance for peasant dancing. At the beginning of Act 4, Jontek has his big aria in which he vents his resentment, but when Halka sees Janusz and Zofia together at the altar she realises the futility of her situation. At first she decides to set fire to the church, but on hearing singing from inside the church she pardons Janusz and throws herself into the nearby river and drowns.
Although I had heard CPO's CD version of Halka (999 032-2), it is this DVD that really brings home the opera's stature. The only advantage the CD has over the DVD is that some of the woodwind piping is more convincingly pastoral in nature; other than that, the Dux wins hands down. This is not least for the excellence of the heroine, Tatiana Borodina. Borodina looks the part – pretty but vulnerable.
The staging is very imaginative, making full use of available space. There is a dream-like presentation of events prior to the opera's action proper over the ten-minute Overture. By emphasising the empty spaces of the stage and having uniform white for the chorus, there is something of the Greek drama about it all. The use of a split stage in the latter part of Act 2, with the party up top and Halka, outside and isolated, is most effective.
There is no doubting the excellence of the Stolnik - the warm of voice Radosŀaw Zukowski - in the opening scenes, but the important part of Janusz is less happily cast in Oleh Lykhach. Everyone is upstaged by Tatiana Borodina's vulnerable Halka, though. Fresh and young of voice, Borodina's high register is a treat and her musicality beyond question. This is something that is emphasised by her solo scene in Act 2. Lykhach (Jontek) has a rather bleaty tenor, although his best moment comes with his declaration of his love for Halka.
The staging of the rustic third act is stunning in its use of chorus even if a slightly unsteady camera threatens to spoil one's enjoyment! The dances come off well in the orchestra but I remain unconvinced that the choreography reflects the earthiness of the music. Later in the act it is Halka that is show-stopping, attaining her finest moments so far with floated high notes that many a soprano would die for. In contrast, Jontek seems to be even weaker.
Luckily, Lykhach pulls out all the stops for Jontek's big arias in Act 4 (“The fir trees sigh on mountain peaks”), bringing to it a real sense of longing. Again, a split stage works well later in the act, emphasising the separation of Halka from all around her. Her 'mad scene' is most convincing; her call to Almighty God to extend mercy to his people is probably her finest moment. She is lowered beneath the stage to represent her drowning, and there is a freeze on the crowd's action at the end.
Superb and revelatory, then. Obscure opera rarely get a chance to shine as this one has. It would be perfect to see this opera at the Coliseum one day
Colin Clarke


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