The recent recording of Flis [The Raftsman] (1858) makes another of Moniuszko’s operas available to modern audiences, and it is a solid contribution to the discography.
With its libretto (in Polish) by Stanisław Boguslawski hinged on the conflicts resulting arranged marriage and the reunion of two estranged brothers, Flis is not as distinguished dramatically as it is musically. In this attractive score Moniuszko offers a convincing portrait of Polish life. The number that opens the work is engaging, with the chorus supported well by the colorful orchestral accompaniment. In the number which follows, the heroine Zosia has an extended number which is captivating for in its florid character. With folk elements convincingly fused into Moniuszko’s musical idiom, the piece stands apart for its bel-canto-like style. Soprano Iwina Socha demonstrates her facility well in this piece, and the duet with bass Janusz Lewandowski who plays the soldier Szóstak. Supporting the voices is a richly textured orchestra, which evokes at times the idiom associated with Carl Maria von Weber and also, at times, some of the operas of Donizetti.
As to the story itself, Zosia loves the raftsman Franek, sung by tenor Bogusław Bidziński, but her father Antoni (Leszek Skrła) promised her to Jakub (Michal Partyka). In obeying her father’s wishes, Zosia must forego Franek’s love for the stability of a marriage with the barber Jakub. Franek reluctantly relinquishes any commitment he had with Zosia. As a result Franek decides to leave the community to seek his long-lost brother. Yet the ensuing conversation with Jakub reveals that he is the very person Franek sought. The brothers are reunited and Jakub blesses the marriage between Zosia and Franek at the conclusion of this one-act opera.
As Franek, Bogusław Bidziński is impressive, with supple, lyrical voice which matches nicely the fluid soprano voice of Iwina Socha. Bidziński’s voice fits the role well, with technique to excel in the vocal demands Moniuszko required in the role. Bidziński’s aria with chorus is notable for the way it reveals his character musical, just as the earlier piece gave a sense of Zosia’s role. Yet the musical and dramatic highpoint of Flis is the quartet between Zosia, Franek, Antoni, and Szóstak, which demonstrates the contrapuntal skill Moniuszko brought to this score. It anticipates the concluding ensemble, which brings the work to a satisfying conclusion.
This is an excellent recording of a work that deserves to be heard. As much as the essay in the booklet that accompanies the recording mentions performances of Flis in the twentieth century, those occasions are, unfortunately rare. Here Moniuszko expresses his own voice well and gives a sense of style of opera, which was popular in Poland in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, this is a laudable effort of the Zamku Opera, which boasts a fine chorus and clearly. The conductor Warcisław Kunc deserves credit for the convincing performance, which seems as natural as if he himself composed the score. The sound on this recording is solid, with a good balance between the voices and orchestra. To its credit, Dux released the recording with a full libretto in the original Polish, along with translations in English, German, and Italian. Those who may know Moniuszko’s work through only Halka or The Haunted Manor or, perhaps, the songs on a recent recording by Jadwiga Rappé, may find that Flis will enhance their appreciation of the composer.