63. Legenda Bałtyku (Feliks Nowowiejski)

Opera in 3 acts

By Feliks Nowowiejski

Libretto: Waleria Szalay-Groele, Krystyna Jeżewska

First performed: Poznań, Poland, 28 November 1924

Dossier


Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946) is almost unknown outside Poland, but in the early 20th century he was seen as Poland’s most important living composer. His oratorio Quo vadis?, based on Sienkiewicz’s novel, was performed around the world until WWII.

Legenda Bałtyku was his great operatic success. Performed more than 50 times in its opening season, it soon became known as the Polish National Opera. The opera draws on Polish legend, and celebrates Poland’s access to the Baltic Sea after WWI.

To mark Nowowiejski’s 140th year, the Poznań Opera House staged the work. (More information here.)


SYNOPSIS

CHARACTERS

  • DOMAN, young fisherman (tenor)
  • MESTWIN, farmer (bass)
  • BOGNA, his daughter, Doman’s lover (soprano)
  • SWATAWA, young fisherman’s wife (mezzo-soprano)
  • TOMIR, fisherman, Doman’s friend (baritone)
  • LUBOR, old amber dealer (bass-baritone)
  • SAMBOR, fisherman (tenor)
  • Voice of the thunder god PERUN (baritone)
  • JURATA, Princess of Vineta (silent role, dancer)

SETTING: The Baltic Sea coast, 8th – 9th centuries AD

The “Legend of the Baltic” is the city of Vineta, the Slavic Atlantis, which sank under the waves when a princess offended the gods. Yes, gods; we’re in pre-Christian times, when the Slavs worshipped Svetovid and Perun.

The young fisherman Doman loves Bogna – but her father wants her to marry the rich, elderly Lubor. To win her hand, Doman dives into the sea on Midsummer’s Eve, rescues the inhabitants of Vineta, and returns with the princess’s magic crown. All ends happily, except for Lubor.


4 stars

Legenda Bałtyku belongs to the quintessentially Slavic category of folklore operas. The best-known to Anglophones are probably Rimsky-Korsakov’s, including The Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) and Sadko.

The interest in these works lies in spectacle and orchestral imagination, more than in character or drama. Folk customs (here, the Midsummer Eve celebrations) and nature (the sea) present opportunities for musical scene-painting.

Ballet, too, plays a large part, particularly in the Poznań production, where talented young dancers double the parts of Doman and Bogna.

Nowowiejski’s score is firmly Romantic: lush, lyrical, and often beautiful. Surprisingly traditional for 1924, with Alban Berg around the corner! We can hear echoes of Wagner and grand opera.

Highlights include the overture, the lovers’ duet, and Bogna and Doman’s arias, including the once-famous “Czy ty mnie kochasz”:

 

6 thoughts on “63. Legenda Bałtyku (Feliks Nowowiejski)

  1. Fascinating! I never heard of this opera nor the composer before. I love folk lore operas in the Rimsky vein very much. I’m loving your writing and posted music. I’ve played the new Halevy Chypre 3 times in the past week. Are you a native of Australia? I live in Georgia near Atlanta and travel to NYC when I can to the MET for opera weekends. This year I will be in Bayreuth on Aug 1 for my first time seeing Parsifal! Yes, thrilled to be going. I think you are doing a great service with your blog and all the delicious music you post. Love to hear more about you.

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    1. Glad you like the site!

      Yes, I’m Australian, but grew up in Belgium. Speaking French is great for exploring that repertoire! Lived in Sri Lanka last year, and hoping to move overseas next year.

      Bayreuth? How exciting! I hope it’s a good production.

      Are you a Wagnerian? What are your favourite operas (Wagner or other), and how did you get into opera?

      I have mixed feelings about Wagner, myself – I love Lohengrin, and think all the operas have extraordinary passages, but longueurs, and Schopenhauer hard to take.

      I’ll post about the Halévy soon.

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      1. Hey Nick,
        Thanks for writing back to me. Yes, I’m a devoted Wagnerite and have been since I first heard the overture to Tannhauser when I was 16. I was introduced to opera when I was a boy as I had 2 uncle’s, also opera obsessed and we spent countless hours listening to the great operas. My Uncle Henry was a Wagnerite and lived in NY and use to regularly go to the old Met and would regale me with stories of hearing Flagstad and Melchior in Tristan and other great opera stars of the 40s and 50s. I would later get to see Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers in Tristan when I was 18 yrs old and that performance changed my life. To hear Nilsson in person was an experience that words can’t describe . The sheer power of her sound and richness was indescribable and I could feel the sound of her singing physically press against my chest unlike any open singer I ever have heard since.
        I also love Meyerbeer so much as well as Halevy and Bel Canton works. I use to date a musicologist who made his master’s thesis on Meyerbeer and spent many hours in the bowels of the Paris Opera researching old scores and letters of his. Did you know that Meyerbeer had a morbid fear of being buried alive? His instructions upon his death was that a string would be tied to him with a bell attached that would sound if he woke up and found himself buried and could call for help.
        Have a great day!
        Cheers, Rich

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      2. I love Wagner, Meyerbeer, Halevy, Verdi, and all bel canto. I love hearing rare Rossini and Donizetti works and marvel at their melodic genius. But Wagner is my favorite as his music just sends me to another world every time I hear it. When I was 18 I saw Tristan with Nilsson in San Francisco and that performance was life altering. I’m so excited at last to be going to Bayreuth and hear Parsifal in the house he specifically composed it for although I have heard other Parsifal performances in the US. I had a boy friend for a while who was a musicologist and wrote his master thesis Meyerbeer and Les Huguenots in particular and spent time in the underground bowels of the Paris Opera where he had to get state permission to examine rare scores and letters which is not allowed for the general public to see in order to write his paper. He would tell me fabulous tales of touching rare manuscripts and discovering unfounded music that Meyerbeer wrote. He taught me a lot about Meyerbeer. I also had an 2 uncles who loved Wagner and opera and played then constantly when ever I visited them. One of my uncles use to tell me about hearing Flagstad and Melchior at the old Met during the 30s and 40s in NYC. He sat in the Family Circle and spent hours hearing the great singers of the past and told me some fun stories. Have a great day, Rich

        Sent from my iPad

        >

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      3. You have excellent taste, Rich!

        My feelings about Wagner go back and forth. Some of his music really does send you to another world, as you say, The Lohengrin Prelude, the Grail Narration, the Transformation Music from Parsifal, Siegfried’s Funeral March, Wotan’s Farewell and the Magic Fire Music, and the Liebesnacht are all sublime. Tannhauser is full of musical beauties, too, and Dutchman, despite the gloomy plot, is good fun.

        My last encounters with Wagner, though, weren’t great – a stultifying cinema broadcast of Tristan, and the 1980s Met Ring. Is Wagner better listened to than seen, I wonder?

        Interesting to hear about your boyfriend; discovering lost Meyerbeer scores – wow!

        The Reine de Chypre post is up: https://operascribe.com/2018/06/14/64-la-reine-de-chypre-fromental-halevy/

        Nick

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      4. I got a ping on my iPhone this morning that woke me up that you posted the duet from Chypre. Ofcourse I listened to it at 6am here in Atlanta. I love the pics you show on your sight also. Don’t you think it was fantastic to be in the audience let’s say when La Juive premiered and see people’s reaction to the stagecraft of their day? I’d love to see when Rachel gets pushed into the boiling cauldron. I bet the audience just went wild! Talk about a big finish lol. And all this before the invention electric lights. R.

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