Opera in 3 acts
Libretto: Waleria Szalay-Groele, Krystyna Jeżewska
First performed: Poznań, Poland, 28 November 1924
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.)
- 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.
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”: