Stanislaw MONIUSZKO (1819 - 1872)
Paria (1869) [122.09]
Dzares - Leszek Skrla (baritone)
Akebar - Janusz Lewandowski (bass-baritone)
Neala - Katarzyna Holysz (mezzo)
Idamor - Tomsz Kuk (tenor)
Ratef - Andrzej Lampert
Choir and Orchestra of the Castle Opera (Opery na Zamku)/Warcislaw Kunc
rec. September 2008, Castle Opera in Szczecin, Poland
DUX 0686/7 [54.30 + 67.39]

Paria (The Pariah) is the last of Moniuszko’s operas, coming after The Haunted Manor (1865) which is the best known. Moniuszko worked on the opera for some ten years and based it on a play by Casimir Dalvigne. In fact when he was eighteem Moniuszko had made his own translation of Dalvigne’s play but this has been lost; the libretto to the opera is by Jan Checinski who wrote the librettos to Moniuszko’s two previous operas (The Haunted Manor and Verbum Nobile).

It is puzzling as to why Moniuszko might have chosen the subject matter. Its Hindu setting links it to such operas as The Pearl Fishers and Lakmé, but Moniuszko’s treatment lacks the perfumed exoticism of Bizet and Delibes. Moniuszko’s music is no more Hindu than Verdi’s music for Aida is Egyptian. Interestingly another play by Dalvigne was the source material for the libretto of Verdi’s opera Vêpres Siciliennes which was premiered in 1855.

The opera concerns the love between Neala (Katarzyn Holysz) and Idamor (Tomas Kuk)
She is a priestess and the daughter of Akebar (Janusz Lewandowski) the high priest and head of the Brahmin caste. He is a warrior who has recently defended the country against its enemies. Finally Akebar agrees to their wedding, but the celebration is interrupted by Dzares (Leszek Skrla) who is a pariah. Dzares demands to be put to death according to the law, but Idamor realises that he is his father. Idamor has already confessed to Neala that he was born into the pariah caste. In the end Idamor dies in Dzares place.

It is difficult to get too worked up about the fate of the characters. The plot relies too heavily on its exotic location and Moniuszko rather fails to interest us in these people. The scenario relies a little too heavily on ceremonial in the Brahmin temple and the drama is driven by operatic convention and coincidence.

Though other European influences can be detected, it is German Romanticism which seems to have influenced Moniuszko most, which sits rather oddly with the opera’s subject matter.

The cast of Castle Opera give the work their best shot and the performance is entirely creditable and enables everyone to come to grips which the delights and problems of Moniuszko’s grand opera. There are some lovely moments and Moniuszko’s scene-painting is delightful, though this does not really add up to a highly dramatic opera.

Katarzyna Holysz makes an attractive Neala, though her tone quality is sometimes a bit more steely than is really necessary. Tomasz Kuk makes a virile-sounding Idamor, though he rather smudges the detail in the vocal line at times. Janusz Lewandowski makes a strong Akebar and has probably the finest voice on the disc. The other roles are all quite small but well taken.

The performance from the choir and orchestra has its limitations, but under Warcislaw Kunc’s direction they give a performance which does at least enable us to hear Moniuszko’s opera.

Frankly this release is for interested parties only. If you know Moniuszko’s work and want to hear his final opera, then this release enables you to do just that. But if you are just curious, do try but you may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Robert Hugill