Stanisław Moniuszko did not have a straight and easy path before he got to the stage of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw with his Halka. The Warsaw premiere (1 January 1858) was preceded by almost ten years of the composer’s efforts so that the future symbol of Polish opera could become a reality on the respectable stage of the capital.Halka (to Włodzimierz Wolski’s libretto) was initially created as a two-act work. It was staged in this form in Vilnius in 1848 on a platform, and in 1854 – on stage.
When, after years of expectation, the management of the Warsaw Grand Theatre decided to stage the ‘Warsaw premiere’, Moniuszko presented a much more elaborate and changed version. Jontek no longer sang with a baritone, but with a tenor, and the score was enriched with several freshly written fragments: the duo of Jontek and Janusz, new arias by Halka, Janusz and Jontek, highlander dances. In this way, a new, more mature work was created – a four-act opera, which was to become the ‘first lady’ among the Polish opera.
At the Warsaw premiere (conducted by the theatre director Jan Quattrini), the first ensemble of the Warsaw stage was sung by: Paulina Rivoli, Julian Dobrski and Wilhelm Troszel.
In July 1858, upon his arrival in Warsaw, Moniuszko wrote in a letter to his wife: The fourth day was spent admiring Dobrski, the great self-ruler of the local Opera, without whom nothing, and with whom everything (…). He told me that he has no idea whatsoever about the music of ‘Halka’, but naturally that he would sing in it, even if the part was inconvenient for him.
Luckily, Moniuszko’s Halka defeated it ‘uphill’, and today’s performers have a slightly different approach to the profession (!). – to the joy of the performers and the artistic satisfaction of the opera audience.
portrait of Stanisław Moniuszko, Tytus Maleszewski, 1865, National Museum in Warsaw