New Halka from DUX
Despite the all-encompassing economic turmoil DUX is churning out new albums as regularly as ever. This and a couple of posts to follow will be dedicated to some new releases I’ve spotted on their site in the past months. As previously, these are not necessarily the most important, they are simply the ones I personally wanted to note down for further reference (or maybe even purchase, if I find a rich sponsor :roll:) … I haven’t heard any of them (yet?). They might all turn out to be complete duds. These are alerts, not reviews.
A new recording of Stanislaw Moniuszko’s Halka (note the cover! the first intelligent cover of Halka I’ve ever seen). Forces are (roughly?) the same as on the earlier DUX DVD which received favorable reviews (I have no opinion myself, I’ve yet to get the DVD itself). Of course, one is bound to ask immediately: do we actually need another recording of Moniuszko’s first opera? The answer, quite predictably, seems to be both yes and no.
Yes, of course we need as many recordings of Halka as we can get. First of all, because Moniuszko’s operatic debut is a great work (much, much greater than one is used to expect from a “first opera”; in fact, it is often referred to as a “masterpiece” – which isn’t all that surprising at all, especially if you consider how innovative it was – not in terms of musical idiom but general concept – the earlier, Vilnius version of 1848 was pretty much a Wagnerian drama; and the daring libretto is excellent in its own right too).
Secondly, we need another recording because while Halka appears to be the most recorded Polish opera (with King Roger breathing down her neck), it still is lamentably underrecorded. Why, I can give you a full list straight away.
Complete recordings of the later “Warsaw version” on DVD:
1) the Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki) recording on ZPR (out of print),
2) the Wroclaw Opera recording on DUX (still in print!).
Audio-only complete recordings of the “Warsaw version”:
1) Bolshoy Theatre/Kondrashin (rec. live 1952) on Melodiya LPs (out of print, never released on CD),
2) the Poznan Opera/Valerian Berdyaev on Polskie Nagrania-Muza LPs (out of print, never released on CD, often quoted as the “ultimate” Halka),
3) PRNSO/Jerzy Semkow on Polskie Nagrania LPs, later rereleased on Chant du Monde CDs (both releases out of print),
4) Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki)/Robert Satanowski on CPO (appears to be still in print!),
5) Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki)/Antoni Wicherek on ZPR (out of print),
6) Wroclaw Opera/Ewa Michnik on DUX (the recording this post is about).
There’s also a single recording of the earlier “Vilnius version”, Warsaw Chamber Opera/Ruben Silva on Pro Musica Camerata/Polskie Nagrania (recently gone out of print).
Also worth mentioning is a generous selection of highlights from the opera – recorded around 1932 and released then on multiple records by Syrena-Elektro, remastered and re-released on 2 LPs in 1980 by Polskie Nagrania (both versions out of print and never released on CD). And a CD of highlights on Polskie Nagrania (Polish National Opera-Teatr Wielki/Zdzislaw Gorzynski, released on LP earlier, both out of print). If you read Polish, you can find further comments on these recordings on the Trubadur website (Jacek Chodorowski Płytowe dzieje Halki Stanisława Moniuszki – this was a great help in compiling my list).
Anyway, this new DUX release would appear to be the 7th complete Halka and the 5th available on CD – not much, if you ask me. Plus this will be one of only two recordings in print. So not all that much to choose from.
That was reason number two. Reason number three: once the market is flooded with enough “regular” recordings of Halka, we might finally get something spectacular. Like a HIP recording or something. (Marc Minkowski conducted some orchestral excerpts from the opera with the Sinfonia Varsovia last year but it appears he is not intending to commit them to disc…)
And why don’t we need a new Halka? Well, this isn’t a real reason but there are countless, repeat COUNTLESS works by Moniuszko, many of them masterpieces (reputed masterpieces?), that have never ever been recorded and are hardly ever performed (when the heck is someone finally going to record the cantatas, dammit! at least the most important ones! two cantatas? one? please? pretty please…?). Why not give us one of those? And even among the pieces that already have been recorded, there are many out of print items which deserve to remain available at least as much as Halka does, if not more… What’s more, there are lots of operas and oratorios and cantatas by other Polish composers (e.g. Żeleński, Nowowiejski, Różycki and many more) which deserve to be finally heard.
But that, as I said, is not a real reason not to record Halka one more time (and another one after that). It is simply a reason to record other stuff as well. So I welcome this effort with much, much joy. Moniuszko died 190 years ago this year and DUX seem to be the only people to have noticed… that’s a shame…