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“Manru” is the only opera by noted piano virtuoso and future
Prime Minister of the Republic Poland, Ignacy Jan Paderewski
(1860-1941). It’s written in a post-Romantic vein, with definite
Wagnerian influences. For example, “Manru” isn’t divided into
different “numbers,” but instead relies on a system of recurring
motifs to unify the score. The orchestra is given great prominence,
without neglecting the vocal lines, which contain a great deal of
beautiful writing. There are also numerous Folk-based elements
in the score, thereby further cementing its “Romantic” vein.

In brief, the plot of “Manru” centers on a girl, Ulana, who runs
away with her Gypsy lover, Manru. When she attempts to return
home, she is then ostracized by her mother, Hedwig, and others
from her village. Ulana bears Manru’s child. Later, upon learning
that Manru loves another woman, Asa, Ulana commits suicide.
In turn, a dwarf and sorcerer, Urok, ultimately murders Manru.
There is a love potion involved, as well as Gypsy fiddling, the
striking of anvils, and other romantic touches. I found the
“love duet” sung between Ulana and Manru at the end of Act Two
reminiscent of the end of Act One of “Die Walküre.” Although many
composers were influenced by Richard Wagner’s large shadow,
this didn’t mean that Paderewski lacked his own voice. In fact,
“Manru” has many nice compositional touches, which I found
engaging, if not particularly memorable or “important.”

There is no doubt that with his career as a pianist, and later
as Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland (he actually signed
the Treaty of Versailles), Paderewski didn’t have much time to
compose, and his list of works isn’t large. Nevertheless, “Manru”
was an attractive work, and I’m glad that I heard it. The premiere
performance was given in 1901 in German, and translated into
Polish shortly thereafter, under Paderewski’s supervision. In fact,
it was performed in numerous American cities, and first heard in
New York City in January 1907.

This 110-minute recording was taken from a concert performance,
and is probably the only available recording of this work. It is
quite commendable. Unfortunately, the accompanying libretto
was only provided in Polish with English references to the
numbered tracks, doubling as a synopsis. Conductor Ewa Michnik
drew a fine performance from the orchestra and chorus and
there was a definite sense of dramatic propulsion, despite the
lack of staging. Soprano Ewa Czermak was particularly
impressive as Ulana, and high praise should be given to solo
violinist, Stanislaw Czermak. Overall, I felt it was a pleasant
discovery of a strikingly beautiful work.

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