Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor)

STRASZNY DWÓR (The Haunted Manor)

Opera in 4 acts

LIBRETTO: Jan Chęciński

WORLD PREMIERE: Warsaw, Teatr Wielki, 28 November 1865

Hanna: Bronisława Dowiakowska, soprano; Jadwiga: Józefa Chodowiecka-Hess, mezzo-soprano; Stefan: Julian Dobrski, tenor; Zbigniew: Wilhelm Troszel, bass; Chamberlain’s wife: Honorata Majeranowska, alto; Sword-bearer: Adolf Kozieradzki, baritone; Skołuba: Józef Prochazka, bass; Damazy: Józef Szczepkowski, tenor; Maciej: Jan Koehler, baritone; Marta: Kamila Stankiewicz, soprano; Grześ: Aleksander Mystkowski, tenor; Old Woman: Apolonia Grabowska, alto

SYNOPSIS Act 1. The war is over. Two young noblemen, Stefan and Zbigniew, sons of Royal Pantler, bid farewell to their comrades-in-arms before, setting out on their journey home. For peace to reign at home as well, and to remain free ‘for our nation, as patriots should’, they pledge to ‘both maintain a bachelor state’. In other words: ‘women in the house are banned’ (the intrada A gdy się rozstaniem – Afore we’re away; Zamiast bezczynnie służyć w żołnierce – Rather the idly serving the forces). Having spent whole night with their comrades by a camp fire, it is time to say goodby. Led by the good old Maciej, the brothers depart (Tandem panicze – Gentlemen, it’s time to leave; Żegnajcie nam – Fare you well, dearest comrades-in-arms). At Stefan and Zbigniew’s manor house everybody is impatiently awaiting the brothers’ return (the chorus Ach, pani Marto, mówcie szczerze – Oh! Marta, tell us if you please). Welcomed with bread and salt as the ancient rite dictates, the young fellows salute their family home, which they did not see for years (the tercet Cichy domku – Peaceful manor). They plan to work the land, relying on trusty Maciej’s help. Yet the plans are in peril as ‘a coach and horses four (…) is heading for our door!’. It turns out to be the young lads’ commanding auntie, the Chamberlin’s wife (Ach, witam was – Welcome to you all!; Z tej strony Powiśla – This side of the river). The enterprising lady arrives as a representative of a few noble families from the neighbourhood who have scores of maidens of marrying age, wishing to yoke the two young men in marriage to two of them. Hearing of their blasphemous vows, the auntie grows feeble, but it is not the end of bad news. Her nephews plan to spend the New Year’s Eve in Kalinowo, the Sword-bearer’s estate. The Chamberlain’s wife is close to fainting (‘What will happen to my plan!’). She calls everybody to get together and informs them that the two masters are in great peril: the Sword-bearer’s house is a ‘haunted mansion’, damned by God (the finale: Biada! – Woe betide!; Wśród szumu last – Far from the village in forest green). When the they hear of ghosts that roam the castle rattling their chains, Stefan and Zbigniew burst with laughter, although Maciej is upset. Seeing that her scheme is not working, the Chamberlain’s wife decides to bet them to Kalinowo and otherwise achieve her aim. 

Act 2. At the Sword-bearer’s manor on New Year’s Eve, the host’s beautiful daughters Hanna and Jadwiga, are embroidering a wedding carpet, while their companions are weaving. All are having a nice time (the chorus: Spod igiełek kwiaty rosną – Stitch by stitch on a string flowers quickly grow). Ignoring the Old Woman’s reprimands, they soon decide to put away their work and do do some candle wax reading to ‘glimpse what future lies ahead’. When Hanna leaves to fetch the necessary utensils, Jadwiga dreams of a beautiful young man appearing one day at the forest edge (the dumka: Biegnie słuchać w lasy, knieje – A maid as pretty as a rose listens to the trees). Hanna returns accompanied by Damazy, the two young ladies’ official suitor (without any preference for one or the other), wearing a ‘wig and tailcoat’ in accordance with foreign fashions (the duet: Gdzie postawić to naczynie? – Where should I place this pot?). The Sword-bearer joins the girls and the New Year’s Eve fortune-telling begins (the quartet: Już ogień płonie – The fire is lit). Contrary to Damazy’s hopes, the wax drippings reveal that the girls will not marry pretend Frenchmen but real Poles, knights in armour on horseback. This is in line with what the Sword-bearer has in mind for his daughters (Kto z mych dziewek serce której – He who hopes to make catch and my daughter’s heart enslave). The familial idyll is disrupted by the Chamberlain’s wife, who announces the imminent arrival of Stefan and Zbigniew. The Sword-bearer is thrilled, Hanna and Jadwiga are intrigued, but Damazy is in despair for the Chamberlain’s wife has not come out of courtesy: she is here to plot an intrigue. Not only does she inform the Sword-bearer of her nephews’ vows of bachelorhood, she also paints a caricature of Stefan and Zbigniew, assuring that they ‘are sadly not so masculine, of their species a poor specimen, superstitious and timid like women’. The Sword-bearer grinds his teeth in disappointment, while Hanna decides to play a mean trick on the guests unaware that the same idea has just come to Damazy’s mind. Suddenly, a screaming and laughing crowd bursts into the room. It is a hunting party led by the keyholder, Skołuba. They crashed into Stefan and Zbigniew’s coach on the way, a shot was fired in the commotion and now nobody knows who killed the wild boar (the finale: Traf szczególny! – A stroke of luck!)! The Sword-bearer gives a rousing welcome to his deceased friend’s sons (O, drodzy goście? – Ah! Dear guests!). The Chamberlain’s wife’s worse predictions turn out to be correct: the young exchange glances: Stefan cannot take his eye off Hanna, Zbigniew is dumbfounded at the sight of Jadwiga, while the two young ladies cannot believe that the two beautiful squires are caitiffs. The hunting quarrel is intensifying in the background. The untimely shot was fired by Maciej, which angers Skołuba. Looking the brothers straight into their eyes, the Sword-bearer raises a toast to their brave father (A był to dzielny zuch – He was a brave man), while Damazy whispers something to Skołuba’s ear…

Act 3. The Sword-bearer has given his guests rooms in a remote part of the castle, close to a grand hall with a huge musical clock and imposing portraits of ancestors on the walls. Skołuba leads Maciej into the room and the latter complains that the keyholder has forgotten to bring a candle. ‘My dear man! There’s light from the moon,’ replies Skołuba, happy to take revenge on the old servant, then finishes Maciej with a story of the ancient clock which has been broken for a century and starts working only in the presence of strangers ‘then loud will strike the clock’. To make matters worse, this wakes up the grandmothers in the paintings, who descend from the walls and ‘argue with daggers drawn’ (Ten zegar stary niby świat – This grandfather clock as old as time). Certain that Maciej has lost all his mettle, Skołuba sneaks out of the room, leaving Maciej in the darkness, which causes the grandmothers in the paintings… to announce the arrival of Stefan and Zbigniew. Fleeing the scene in terror, Maciej bumps into the young masters in the doorway, who are confused by the servant’s mumbling. While Zbigniew solicitously leads Maciej away, Stefan stays in the grand hall alone with a full heart and moonlight. He is overcome with memories of his dead parents and romantic fantasies of Hanna’s eyes. While he is dreaming, the clock is playing a magical melody (Cisza dokoła – All is at peace; Boże mój, melodia ta – Dear Lord, that melody; Słyszę tę piosnkę – I hear that tune). Unable to fall asleep, Zbigniew returns to join his brother. Immediately, both men admit that deep down their hearts they have already broken their vows. The only thing that Stefan find fearsome in the ‘haunted manor’ are Hanna’s eyes, while Zbigniew cannot stop thinking about Jadwiga (the duet: Kto tu? – Who’s there?; Gdym przy wieczerzy – When at the feast in her eyes I gazed). That is when, the portraits disappear: standing inside the frames are Hanna and Jadwiga dressed as the ancient grandmothers. The four of them begin a lyrical quartet (Ni boleści, ni rozkoszy – Not to share both joy and grief). Alarmed by the passionate outburst, Damazy descends from the clock, where he was busy tempering with the carillon. Displeased to see him, Hanna and Jadwiga hide behind the portraits. Stefan and Zbigniew, however, have noticed something suspicious. Damazy dashes back into his hiding place as Maciej runs out of the adjacent room, screaming in fear. The brothers are now almost certain that somebody is playing a nasty joke on them. They leave Maciej to stand guard by the clock and begin searching for the mechanism that governs the portraits. Intrigued, Damazy comes out of hiding again, right into Maciej’s hands. Trapped, Damazy tries to scare Maciej, pretending to be ‘the ghost of the clock’, however, the old servant recognises the tailcoat and its owner. Confronted with returning Stefan and Zbigniew, Damazy desperately tries to find some excuse for his actions (the finale: Pan, pan w zegarze? – You, sir? In the clock?). For lack of a better defence, he asserts that ‘over [the manor's] wall hangs the wrath of God’, because it ‘come into being through ill-gotten gain’. While ghosts could not scare them off, this revelation prompts the young men to leave the damned walls. 

Act 4. New Year’s morning. Unaware of the dramatic finale of the nighttime tomfoolery, Hanna cannot wrap her mind around her guests’ vows of bachelorhood. Haven Polish women proven their dedication to the national cause over the course of centuries past? (Do grobu trwać w bezżennym stanie – Stay single to the grave; Któraż to, która – Show me woman)? Delighted, Damazy informs her that the brothers have unexpectedly decided to leave in a hurry. He has also packed his bags, intending to wait for the storm to pass in a nearby inn and return to the manor once the rivals have left, bringing a priest with him. On his way out, Stefan meets Hanna, yet he refuses to provide any explanation for his hasty departure (the duet: Na jedno słowo – A single word), confessing only his feelings for the young lady. The brothers also ignore the Sword-bearer’s inquiries, but when he accuses them of cowardice, Maciej lets his outrage be known, repeating Damazy’s words. Suddenly, a sleighing party bursts into the chamber, their arrival impeding the departure of the schemer. The Sword-bearer interrogates Damazy in detail. Hearing, however, the reason for the latter’s blatant falsehood, he decides to forgive him. He has more pleasant fatherly duties to perform: kneeling before him are two couples: Stefan and Hanna, Zbigniew and Jadwiga. The Chamberlain’s wife is green with anger, while the Sword-bearer explains the secret of ‘the haunted manor’ once and for all. Last century, his venerable ancestor was blessed nine daughters, all as pretty as a picture, who married all the most eligible bachelors from the neighbourhood, infuriating all the local mothers, aunts and single ladies withering in unmarried state. That is when the malicious legend was stated to scare off potential suitors. The Chamberlin’s wife decides to come to live in the manor, hoping that its reputation would attract a gentleman willing to wed a good-natured widow… It is now time to celebrate the New Year in a worthy fashion with a fiery mazurka (the chorus: Hej, zagrajcie siarczyście – Hey! Play with zest and verve!).

HISTORY. The triumph of Halka opened up a road to Warsaw for Moniuszko. He settled in the city in October 1858, after the premiere of Flis. First as a conductor, then intendant of the the Teatr Wielki, he treated the Warsaw audience to The Countess (1860) and Verbum nobile (1861), before devising the masterpiece that The Haunted Manor turned out to be. Moniuszko met the librettist Jan Chęciński (1826-1874), an actor, singer, stage director and dramaturg, when working on Verbum nobile. The concept for a new, wider-ranging comic opera was devised in 1861. After a long stay in Paris (winter of 1861-61), where he met Rossini and Auber, and where his friends unsuccessfully tried to have one of his works staged, Moniuszko returned to Poland to finish the draft of the score (1862). His plans foundered as history interfered. In January 1863 another anti-Russian uprising broke out and failed, yet the tsarist authorities closed the opera house for more than two years. It reopened with the world premiere of Moniuszko’s new opera. The success proved too much to bear for the Russian occupying forces. Just like the staging of Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve at the National Theatre in 1967 triggered patriotic demonstrations which were brutally broke up by the Communist militia, the public’s enthusiastic reaction to the opening of The Haunted Manor prompted the Russian authorities to ban the opera after three performances. Moniuszko did not live to see it return on stage. It was revived five years after his death, in 1877, in Lviv and Kraków, both cities controlled by the Austrians at the time. In 1822 the opera was shown in fragments in Prussian-controlled Poznań and as a whole in 1909. Finally, it was staged in Russian-ruled Łódź in 1905. All the performances were ‘strictly controlled’ and heavily censored. The original version was restored only after Poland recovered independence after WWI: The Haunted Manor was staged in Warsaw in 1926 and 1935. After WWII, the Warsaw Opera showed the work in 1949 and 1963 (the memorable production by Aleksander Bardin conducted by Bohdan Wodiczko). In 1965 a new production was devised Jerzy Merunowicz (conducted by Witold Rowicki) to mark the reopening of the Teatr Wielki, which had been almost completely destroyed during the war. Subsequent stagings were put on in 1972, 1983 and 1999 (the provocative production by Andrzej Żuławski, replaced in 2001 by a more conventional take on the classic by Mikołaj Grabowski). All this time, numerous different productions of the opera were shown across Poland. Earlier, it had been given its debut abroad in Prague (1891), Kiev (1891) and Vienna (1892; sung in Polish). In the 20th century The Haunted Manor’s international career has been flagging. It was shown in Cologne in 1926, Chicago in 1927 (fragments), Basel in 1939, Bern in 1948, Minsk in 1952 and Leningrad in 1953. Leaving out guest performances of Polish opera companies (Lyon 1986 – French premiere as part of the Łódź Grand Theatre’s tour), original stagings of the opera were shown in Bristol (1971), Tokyo (1979), Bonn (1979), Hagen (1979) and Detroit (1982, US premiere). Among the opera’s famous performers (the list includes the who’s who of Polish opera of the last century), special credit should be given to Andrzej Hiolski, who was an unmatched Sword-bearer from the time of the opera’s first radio recording in 1952 until the twilight of his career.