“Manru” an opera in three acts with music by Ignace Jan Paderewski and text by Alfred Nossig, after the Polish novel by Kraszewski, was first produced at the Royal Opera House in Dresden, May 29, 1901, and was heard for the first time in New York, :Feb. 14, 1902.
Manru, a gypsy. Ulana, a Galician girl. Hedwig, her mother. Asa, the belle of the gypsies. Urok, a dwarf. Oros, the chief of the gypsy band. Jagu, a gypsy fiddler.
Manru is a Hungarian gypsy in whose breast lie dormant all the longings of his race. He encounters Ulana, a charming peasant girl, falls in love with her and succeeds in conquering the domestic, home-loving heart. With the peasant folk, however, the gypsies are in ill-repute and the girl is cast off by her mother, Hedwig, and by her former associates because of her unconventional marriage.
To a lonely hut in the wood the gypsy husband takes her and they are happy in their isolation until the yearning for the old, carefree, wandering life seizes Manru. He struggles hard against it, for the sense of duty is not absent from his character, but the wild hunger for the freedom of the mountains is but little softened by the human love dying in his heart. Urok, a dwarfed, unprepossessing fellow, who is in love with Ulana, is their only companion. To him she confesses her fear that the Wanderlust has seized her husband. She realizes dully that if she could shake off her love of home and go wandering with him, she might hope to retain his love. At this juncture, her mother offers to take her back again if she will renounce Manru. This she refuses to do but she begs Urok, who knows all the herbs of field and forest, to brew her a potion which shall revive her husband’s love. Urok consents but hints that the effects of the draught may not be permanent.
In the second act, Manru is seen at work at his little forge, while within the cabin Ulana sings a lullaby over the cradle of her baby. Urok, who sees that the domesticity of the scene is maddening to Manru, taunts both of them. The regret for the old life, for the old gay companionship almost overwhelms Manru when he hears the sound of gypsy music echoing in the hills and when his former fellow, Jagu, the fiddler, arrives. He urges Manru to return to his people, tempting him with the chieftainship of the band and the love of Asa, his former sweetheart, whose charms he recalls to him. His arguments nearly prevail and he is about to follow Jagu to the hills when Ulana’s voice restrains him and he goes back to the anvil. Now Urok appears with the promised love-potion which Ulana gives to her husband. In a few moments he is transformed into an ardent lover. The rapturous duet ensuing is one of the gems of the opera.
As Urok has suggested, the potion is but temporary in its effect. The third act finds Manru again in the grasp of a mad desire for freedom. His inner unrest is reflected in the scene. It is a wild rocky ravine near a lake; flying clouds ride across the moon and the wind wails in the hills. Manru, at last undone by the battle in his soul, falls prostrate, his face to the earth. After a while familiar music falls upon his ears, the weird measures of a Romany march which announces the coming of his people. They descend from the hills and Asa, the seductive, is with them. She recognizes Manru and welcomes him, entreating him to return and promising her own love in reward, while Oros, leader of the band, watches them with ill-concealed jealousy. It is Jagu, the fiddler, who gives success to Asa’s enticements. He plays a wild strain on his gypsy strings which sets Manru on fire and he consents. In a rage, Oros throws down his staff of office and the gypsies acclaim Manru their leader in his place.
When all have gone, poor Ulana accompanied by Urok, comes seeking Manru. In despair, for she knows that she has been deserted, she finally throws herself into the lake. It is the dwarf who acts as the retributive force. When Manru appears with his arm around Asa, Urok steals up behind the unfaithful husband and pushes him over the cliff.
Paderewski has levied inspirational tribute upon the folk-songs and the dances of his own people as well as upon the strange music of the nomadic tribes of Hungary where the scene, of the story is laid, and has ruade effective artistic use of this virile material. He has chosen a story well suited for musical expression. The music is essentially modern in that it is continually painting the inner life of the characters. Especially powerful is the portrayal of the conflict that rages in Manru’s soul. Passages which show unusual power are the peasant ballet in the first act with the recurring phrase, ” When the Moon is full the Gypsy runs wild ; ” Ulana’s tender lullaby over her child in the second act and the impassioned love duet which concludes it; the elaborate orchestral prelude to the third act; Manru’s dream; the strange Romany music and Asa’s song of temptation.