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Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Paria - opera in three Acts (1869)
Neala – Katarzyna Hołysz (soprano); Idamor – Yuri Gorodetski (tenor); Djares – Szymon Komasa (baritone); Akebar – Robert Jezierski (bass); Ratef – Tomasz Warmijak (tenor)
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2019, Adam Mickiewicz University Auditorium, Poznań
Sung in Italian
Booklet included with notes in Polish and English. Libretto in Italian and Polish
DUX 1622/3 [54:53 + 71:02]

Moniuszko’s final opera has rarely been performed since its premiere in Warsaw in 1869. The blame for this can be laid solely at Moniuzsko’s feet. He was anxious to compose a work that would be more broadly appealing to the audiences across Europe and elsewhere. His style had previously been so firmly rooted in Polish nationalism that the more Italianate style that he was aiming for seems to have been beyond his effective reach. At the time the opera was composed an oriental exoticism was gaining popularity among composers and audiences alike. The French composers such as Bizet were particularly successful at imbuing their music with a sort of sensual exotic perfume especially with regards to the orchestra. Works such as Djamileh, Les pÍcheurs de Perles and Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine are simply heady with the scent of the orient in their music. Moniuszko doesn’t seem to have been able to conjure these effects up in his score; consequently what he gave us is a rather indisctinive faux Italian work that at times resembles later Donizetti or Gomes. Sadly, there is very little of Verdi’s panache in the music of Paria.

This recording is the Dux label’s second release of this opera; an earlier version, also recorded at live performances was reviewed by my colleague Robert Hugill. The current recording was made at concert performances in Warsaw in conjunction with the 200th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Moniuzsko. This anniversary has been responsible for a handful of new recordings of Moniuszko’s works on the Dux label; I for one, am grateful to have the opportunity to become more familiar with his work.

The confusing plot is easily summed up as the Brahmin priestess Neala, who is in love with the warrior Idamor, and for political reasons is commanded to marry him by her father, the Brahmin High Priest Akebar. Suddenly the pariah, Djares (who is secretly Idamor’s father) turns up and is prevented from being murdered by the Brahmin mob when his son stands up to them. Eventually the secret identity of Idamor is revealed to the mob and they revolt against their former hero and murder him. Neala bravely rejects her people and runs off to marry Djares who almost became her father-in-law. Opera plots such as this one are held up to be utterly unbelievable but actually one has to spend only 30 minutes or so watching current reality-talk TV programs to realize that real life is far stranger than any opera plot.

The cast is reasonably up to the demands of the work. Yuri Gorodetski, (Idamor) is a wonderful lyric tenor who possesses a tone of liquid honey and just a hint of vibrant squillo in his higher range. I look forward to hearing more from him. His love Neala is sung by Katarzyna Hołysz who has a large, expansive soprano but her tone, while firm, is rather white and colourless in its quality. Robert Jezierski is Akebar, revealing an attractive, warm-sounding Bass. He is perhaps a little short of amplitude in his upper range but he sings his music most attractively. The pariah Djares, is sung by the warmly lyrical baritone of Szymon Komasa. His lament early in the second act (CD2, Track 6) is by far the best aria in the work but it is a fairly brief piece. Łukasz Borowicz takes a firm but graceful hand of the proceedings and the chorus and orchestra are flawlessly responsive to his leadership

The recording is nicely managed in terms of the soloists and orchestra but the chorus has been recorded much too closely, almost as if they are standing on top of the soloists. Moniuszko provided some attractive choral effects including a rather nice piece for the Brahmin women in Act Two; better distancing of the chorus would have allowed their scenes to make their full effect to greater advantage.

Dux has aimed to produce a rather well documented booklet to accompany the CDs. Unfortunately they fail English listeners badly by not providing an English translation of the Italian libretto. Considering that the previous release had an English translation in the booklet this is truly puzzling. Incidentally, there is no explanation in the article as to why the work is given in Italian, presumably this is because it was originally written in that language. The previous Dux release was sung in Polish so it is anyone’s guess.

While this is likely the finest recording this opera shall ever receive, ultimately Moniuszko’s Paria is something of a failed curiosity that probably won’t be trending on opera company schedules any time soon.

Mike Parr

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