Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819-72) is one of those composers much admired inside his homeland – in this case, Poland – where he is regarded as the founder of the national operatic tradition. He is little known elsewhere, so it is particularly rewarding that the Polish Social and Cultural Association is sponsoring a series of his operas at its Hammersmith theatre.
This year’s choice is an operetta called Cyganie (The Gypsies, 1850), known in its revised form as Jawnuta (1860) – apparently never previously performed outside Poland.
It turns out to be a worthwhile choice. One might think of Moniuszko as the Polish Smetana, choosing themes reflecting national life and producing a skilfully composed score full of the distinctive rhythms and melodic inflections of his country’s folk music. The piece flows nicely and is constantly interesting.
It’s set in a rural community, where a Roma woman Jawnuta (Olga Maroszek) has brought up, as her own, two children she believed to be abandoned orphans. Her belated realisation and public acknowledgement of the truth leads to a happy ending, since her adopted daughter Chicha (Jolanta Wagner) can now marry the mayor’s son, Stach (Lukasz Gaj).
The stereotyping of the Roma clan is unfortunate, but director Feliks Tarnawski handles the outdated material sensitively and authentically. The designs are simple but colourful, the choreography lively and well delivered.
Above all, it’s the quality of the musical performance that makes this noteworthy. A first-rate team of Polish principals displays quality voices in all the major roles, while the instrumental score is enlivened by an expert ensemble under conductor Stephen Ellery.