by Andrzej Piber [1]

translated by Maja Trochimczyk


Originally published in Polish, in Warsztat kompozytorski, wykonawstwo i koncepcje polityczne Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego [Composers workshop: Performance and political conceptions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski]. Conference proceedings. Edited by Andrzej Sitarz and Wojciech Marchwica. Musica Iagellonica. Kraków: Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Katedra Historii i Teorii Muzyki, 1991, 120-133.

This article, written by a long-time archivist of the Paderewski Archives in the Archiwum Akt Nowych in Warsaw and the author of several monographs dedicated to Paderewski’s life and career, outlines the circumstances surrounding the premiere of Paderewski’s Manru at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 14 February 1902. Piber cites a large number of press reviews, previews and reports dedicated to this opera and published in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other American cities in 1901 and 1902. He describes the preparations for the staging, the rehearsals, the selection of soloists, design of costumes and decorations. The article includes numerous quotations illustrating a range of critical and popular responses to Manru. The opera’s reception was fraught with controversies; the strongest criticism was addressed at its libretto by Alfred Nossig (denounced as too long and not dramatic enough). Paderewski’s apparent indebtness to Wagnerian operas and music dramas was also singled out by some critical voices. Favorable reviews pointed out the colorful stylizations of Slavic and Gypsy folklore, the skillful use of the orchestra and the wide palette of textures and timbres. The vocal writing was also praised, as were both the characterization of the main personalities in the music and their interpretation by the singers.



Paderewski decided to compose an opera rather early, soon after his successes as a pianist in Paris, Brussels, and Vienna in the years 1888-89. At that time, he had already completed serious compositional undertakings, such as the Sonata in A-minor op. 13 for violin and piano, as well as the Piano Concerto in A minor op. 17 – not to mention numerous smaller and well-known pieces, for instance the famed Minuet in G major. The composer intended to work on a composition with dramatic action, a larger form and greater significance. His intentions were rightly guessed by Alfred Nossig, a playwright, writer, sculptor and economist (and later also a Zionist) from Lwów.[2] In September 1889 he proposed writing a suitable libretto for Paderewski. Paderewski agreed, but only the third attempt, a libretto based on the novel Chata za wsią [A hut beyond the village] by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski was successfully completed.[3] Paderewski received this libretto in December 1893.

The composer began working on the opera Manru in the early months of 1894, but only in the spring of 1901 was the work ready: its world premiere took place at the Royal Opera in Dresden on 29 May 1901, amidst immense interest of international music circles. The spectacle was considered a success for Paderewski the composer and a failure for Nossig the librettist. Similar evaluations were repeated later on many occasions, especially after each subsequent premiere of Manru. The Polish premiere of the opera took place a week after its opening in Dresden, on 8 June 1901 at the City Theater in Lwów, with Aleksander Bandrowski [4] and Helena Ruszkowska [5] playing the principal parts. Bandrowski also sang in Warsaw on 24 May 1902, for the premiere at the Grand Theater, with Janina Korolewiczówna in the role of Ulana. [6] Manru was also staged in Prague, at the Neues Deutsches Theater on 24 November 1901 and at the City Theater in Cologne on 1 January 1902.

During the winter of 1902 Manru continued its favorable run abroad: on 14 February of that year, the American premiere of the opera was held at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera was welcomed with great interest by the American public. This premiere, as well as subsequent performances of Manru on American stages, have interesting histories and constitute a significant chapter in Paderewski’s biography.


Correspondents for New York papers reported from Dresden that Paderewski’s opera was a “great success”(Evening Sun, 30 May 1901), even though its libretto was “clearly old-fashioned” and the music was a “mixture of out-moded lyricism and modern dramatic declamation” (The New York Times , 31 May 1901).[7] Von Sachs, the reporter for the New York based Commercial Advertiser, stated that Paderewski “wrote a work that brought fame to his country . . . he composed music that did not contain a single banal measure.” According to reports published in the New York press, a group of Americans, led by the General Consul Cole, witnessed a leap by Manru from the height of ten yards, [8] and were present when Paderewski was called to the stage over thirty times.

The Dresden spectacle of Manru was seen by two persons whose names and activities later became inseparable from the American history of this work: Maurice Grau, the manager of the Metropolitan Opera and its eminent soloist, Marcellina Sembrich-Kochańska.[9]

Grau, a son of emigrants from Brno in Moravia who had lived in the U.S. since his childhood, graduated from Columbia University Law School but was not attracted to that profession. An extremely dynamic and energetic person, already at the age of twenty-three he had become one of the organizers of the American tour of Anton Rubinstein, and later he also brought Henryk Wieniawski and Sarah Bernhardt to America. His greatest successes took place at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which he had directed in cooperation with Henry E. Abbey and John B. Schoeffel beginning in 1891.[10]

After six years, however, the collaboration ended and Grau became the sole manager of the Met until 1903. This was the “golden age” of the Metropolitan Opera: thanks to the efforts and fastidiousness of Grau, the Met had an ensemble of the most beautiful voices in the world. The Abbey-Grau-Schoeffel cooperative had brought the Polish brothers Edward and Jan Reszke.[11] to New York – they performed at the MET for nine full seasons. There were American singers Emma Eames and Lilian Nordica, as well as sopranos Emma Calve from France and Nellie Melba from Australia.[12] Grau placed Marcellina Sembrich-Kochanska among the greatest: she debuted at the Met in the role of Lucia of Lammermoor on 24 October 1883, during the second spectacle held at this opera house; she was engaged permanently as a soloist beginning in 1898. Madame Sembrich (this name was used by American music critics), a lyric soprano, was a favorite of the New York public. She was especially admired in the parts of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, and particularly as Rosina in The Barber of Seville by Rossini and Susanna in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Marcellina Sembrich distinguished herself with the strength of her voice, purity of her intonation, and precision in performance; she was exceptional in her musicality and artistic intuition.

This wonderful cast of soloists allowed the Metropolitan Opera to present a repertoire of the highest calibre. Grau had large financial means at his disposal; he did not hesitate when travel to other American cities was called for. Every Tuesday the Met ensemble gave guest performances at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia; after the conclusion of the season Grau took his singers to give guest performances in Boston and Chicago. According to Martin Mayer, a historian of the Metropolitan opera,[13] Grau was

Polite, fluent in several languages, seemingly conciliatory but hard as a rock, he was able to simultaneously talk on the phone with his stock broker and arrange the cast for a premiere, while conferring with the artists gathered in his office.

In the 1901-02 season Grau presented 21 operas, including five music dramas by Wagner (Tristan and Isolde, Lohengrin, Walküre, Tannhauser, Die Meistersinger); three operas by Verdi (Aida, La Traviata, Othello); and two operas by Gounod (Romeo and Juliet, Faust). These operas had constituted the “core repertoire” of the Met since its creation. In the 1901-02 season Grau also produced two operas by Donizetti (Don Pasquale, The Daughter of the Regiment), Puccini’s Tosca, Leoncavallo’s Pagliaci, Mascagni’s Cavaleria rusticana, Bizet’s Carmen, Massenet’s Le Cid, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Meyerbeer’s Les Hugenots, and Isidore de Lara’s Messalina. Not a single one of these premieres was a financial success, though the staging of Tosca, Le Cid, and The Magic Flute was extremely costly. Nor was Messalina a favorite with audiences.

Grau took notice of Paderewski’s Manru before its Dresden premiere, and decided to stage it in New York after its success at Dresden’s Royal Theater. More information about the New York premiere of Manru may be found in Paderewski’s interviews published in the British press in mid-September 1901. He confirmed what was reported earlier, i.e. that Grau would produce Manru in New York, with the Met Orchestra conducted by Walter Damrosch, and with the main part of Ulana performed by Marcellina Sembrich. Nonetheless, an American success would require the libretto be translated into English. This daunting task was completed with great success by well-known American music critic Henry Edward Krehbiel. [14] In a review published in Boston’s Sunday Herald, music critic Howard Tickner stated that the libretto was “perfectly rendered in English.”[15] He also expressed the following opinion about the opera:

In a sense, Manru may be placed next to Cavaleria Rusticana – since it also presents the work of simple, primitive people, even though it does so to a fuller extent, and the range of emotions is much larger here, there are many more foreground characters and they are connected with more complicated ties.

The Boston critic noticed that the story about Manru and Ulana “could easily be rendered in a cheap and trivial fashion, or in a banal or melodramatic form, especially that the libretto of the opera is uneven and that it is constructed without proper proportions of parts.” Paderewski, however, treated this libretto, “with a full sensibility to its dramatic potential,” and his work may be considered both “original and individual,” even though at times one may perceive in it an influence of some predecessor,” such as Wagner or Verdi. Tickner had a positive opinion about the opera:

“While considering the whole, Manru is an excellent, powerful, and outstanding dramatic composition, and its staging calls for artists that are not only able to sing with emotion, but also are able to act with a great intensity.”

Paderewski was also able to convince Maurice Grau that only two artists were capable of performing the main roles in Manru “with emotion” and “with intensity,” at the level expected of the Metropolitan Opera. His candidates for the soloists were: Aleksander Bandrowski for the part of Manru and Marcellina Sembrich for the part of Ulana. Their Polish backgrounds and perfect understanding of the Polish color of the music and libretto of Manru, as well as the beautiful sonority of their voices and Bandrowski’s numerous prior appearances in this opera – staged in Kraków and Lwów – provided serious arguments for casting the two singers in preparation of the American premiere.

Bandrowski, engaged by Grau, shortened the season of his appearances in Lwów and soon after 15 December 1901 he left for New York. Before his departure, the singer stated in an interview with a reporter from the Warsaw Echo Muzyczne: “I hope that thanks to Paderewski’s talent we will win the whole undertaking.” Marcellina Sembrich was already in New York. In the fall of 1901 Grau offered her a contract for sixty performances in the U.S.; she was expected to sing in La Traviata, Rigoletto and Lohengrin. A new work was added to her list: Grau designated 14 February 1902 for the premiere of Paderewski’s Manru.

The cover of a Met program, 1901/02 season.

The preparations for this premiere started on 29 January with an orchestra rehearsal directed by Walter Damrosch. [16] Paderewski fully trusted this conductor, who had accompanied him during his American tours from the beginning. Eleven years earlier, on 17 November 1891, Damrosch had conducted the New York Philharmonic when Paderewski made his American debut with Camille Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor. Now, the second most important moment in Paderewski’s American career was also in Damrosch’s hands – he was responsible for the New York premiere of Manru and for the work’s subsequent fate on American stages.

Damrosch began the first rehearsal by listening to the parts of both protagonists performed by Bandrowski and Sembrich. Rehearsals took place daily, but Paderewski first attended them on 31 January. Sembrich then sang the famous lullaby from the second act of the opera, following which she performed the love duet from the same act, with Bandrowski. As expected, a week later full costume rehearsals began.

The New York Sun reported on the progress of work on this composition:

It will be very interesting to observe the fate of Manru. For the first time the individuality of the composer is taken into account. The singers are better here than those that performed the opera in Europe and undoubtedly the beauties of this composition will be fully apparent. It is only doubtful to what extent the choir and the orchestra will contribute to this achievement. Both, however, may be equal to the tasks; Mr. Damrosch likely works with enthusiasm and the presence of the composer should inspire them as well as the singers.”

Damrosch spoke about the instrumentation of Manru with great respect; he considered it to be “interesting and polished, and in some places completely original” he thought that the orchestra parts are “filled with beauty and dramatic content.” In particular, he liked the conclusion of the second act and the “Gypsy music” from the third act.

The composer, from the earliest moments of his stay in New York, took upon himself the difficult task of presenting Manru to the American public. Already during the first press conference, held in the hotel “Manhattan” (where the Paderewskis stayed with their London impresario, William Adlington), the composer said on 30 January:

I may not deny that I wrote Manru under the influence of Wagner. He transformed the accepted models of the opera and to imitate him was absolutely essential. The choice of the subject allowed me to introduce a large dose of lyricism to the libretto and in this respect I followed what is usually defined as the Italian method. I believe that the novelty of Manrulies in this: that, in contrast to a usual romantic story, its theme is developed against the background of the conflict of two races, Slavs and Gypsies. Needless to add that this theme is thoroughly musical. Manru, the hero of this drama, abandons his wife not because he falls in love with another woman, but because of music, that he unexpectedly remembers, reminded by his favorite gypsy melody. In the first act there is also a ballet scene, but it is not a typical ballet, introduced as a divertissement, but a scene that is inseparably bound with the action of the opera, its vital part. Lyrical moments were mostly inspired by gypsy songs, though none of them were copies exactly.

Ulana, Manru’s wife, is a soprano part. Other main female roles include: Aza, a gypsy girl, and Jadwiga, the mother of Ulana, both are mezzosopranos. It was very important for the American premiere of the opera to have the main part sung by someone who knows the score of Manru very well and is familiar with my ideas about its interpretation. Mr. Bandrowski has already performed Manru over twenty times, he deeply understands the character, but also has a beautiful voice and acts wonderfully. For these reasons I asked Mr. Grau to engage him. there are numerous excellent singers in Grau’s ensemble but Bandrowski is fully appropriate for this role. Madame Sembrich will sing the main female part and also at my request, she is Slavic herself and will be able to empathize with Ulana, the heroine that she will portray.

At the end of the interview, Paderewski added: “The length of the period during which Manru will be staged by the Met depends on the reception of this opera by the audience.” However, he did not inform the New York journalists that he had signed a contract with Grau, according to which the manager guaranteed ten performances of Manru, including several in New York, and one each in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.

The rehearsals of Manru were gaining in speed and scope: on 9 February Damrosch rehearsed the third act with the participation of choir and ballet. Paderewski was present during that rehearsal, stood next to the conductor, waved his hands simultaneously with him and energetically stomped his feet in rhythm. At a certain moment he spoke to Damrosch who interrupted the rehearsal; Paderewski played several measures on the piano, accompanying Fritzi Scheff, the lively 23-year-old singer from Vienna who performed the role of Aza. [17]

A four-hour rehearsal with the whole cast took place on 10 February. Two days later, on 12 February, the dress rehearsal was scheduled; Paderewski remembered it very well thanks to a small incident with baritone David Bispham. This 45-year-old singer from Philadelphia, a student of the famous Lamperti, had been on in the cast of the Met for the past six years performing character parts. In Manru he was assigned the part of Urok. As Paderewski reminisced, Bispham “clearly did not know how to dress for this role and for the final dress rehearsal appeared on the stage as a peasant in rags, and, to beat it all, with a Turkish hat (fez), on his head.” Paderewski attempted to persuade him to change his attire, but Bispham did not give in to his pleas and responded: “I’m sorry, my friend, but I was certain, that this sorcerer was a Turk.” Paderewski forgave him because Bispham was a wonderful singer, even though “he did not follow the content of the action.” It is easy to assume that he was not an exception.

The upcoming premiere of Manru inspired the increasing interest of American music lovers, especially those from New York. In order to benefit from these circumstances the New York based music publishing houses, G. Schirmer and F. Rullman, issued a double-language libretto of Manru (in German and English) with the score, as well as a piano reduction of the opera arranged by August Spanuth. [18]


The evening of the premiere of Manru, 14 February 1902, was judged an unusual event in the history of the Met, and described as “the most significant for the public of the Metropolitan Opera in the past decade” (Telegram, New York, 15 February 1902). At a quarter to eight p.m., carriages from the entire city began arriving in front of the opera house, at the corner of the 39th Street and Broadway. At 8 p.m. the whole of Broadway, from 32nd to 44th Street, was packed with carriages. Four thousand spectators filled in the audience of the Metropolitan Opera House; seats in the parterre (orchestra) section sold for twenty dollars each (the prize of tickets to a Paderewski recital ranged from one to four dollars). Paderewski, “slightly pale,” with his wife, was invited to box no. 4 in the parterre section: it belonged to William Collins Whitney, a millionaire and a former secretary of Maritime Affairs in President Grover Cleveland’s administration. In the name of Whitney the box was hosted by James Speyer, with his wife, Ellin. This 40-year old banker was one of the many “socialites” present at this event. The New York Herald listed the names of 110 of the most influential and richest people present at the premiere of Manru, along with information concerning in whose boxes they were found and in what company. Among the rich and famous, the press reported the presence of Edward Reszke, Fritz Kreisler, and Jan Kubelik – musicians – as well as John Davison Rockefeller Jr., Cornelius Vanderbilt III, and Colonel John Jacob Astor.

The event was graced by the New York ladies as well. The press published descriptions of evening gowns worn by 37 ladies who attended the premiere. Box no. 4 and the composer’s wife Helena Paderewska attracted the most attention. She wore a gown of flower brocade, adorned with lace, with bouquets of roses in a “salmon-shade” of orange at her bosom. She seemed to the American press to be “pleased and happy with the enthusiasm of the public, and, of course, very self assured.”

At the beginning of the first act of the opera, Paderewski left his seat and until the end of the spectacle he stayed behind the stage, helping Damrosch and supporting the singers with words of praise and gratitude. The first act seemed to be “unduly long, but it was saved by the final dance of the villagers.” The public greeted it with moderate applause. In the second act, the biggest impression on the public and the music reviewers was made by the love duet of Manru and Ulana, which was described as “brilliantly melodious and effective.” Several days after the premiere, American Art Journal published the following description of the duet:

This love duet is a composition of the highest calibre, extremely tender and convincing, without a single false note. It is a beautiful poem of tones, such as never before resounded in human ears. The audience rose. A frenzied whirlwind of delight captured every heart.”

These words, though exaggerated, reflected to a certain extent, the mood in the hall of the Met. The New York Times noted: “Rarely does the American public become as enthusiastic as it was last night after the conclusion of the second act.”

Bandrowski as Manru. Photo by Aime Dupont. Tribune, 23 February 1902. Press clipping in Research Collection, New York Public Library, Performing Arts Division.

Bandrowski and Sembrich were repeatedly called out, and when the applause did not subside Paderewski – asked by Sembrich, or maybe even pushed out by her onto the stage – appeared before the public also, and was welcomed with “great enthusiasm.” He went out eight times for curtain calls, three times with Damrosch. At one point, Sembrich closed the exit to the proscenium and Paderewski found himself facing his audience alone. “Never in its history did the Metropolitan opera house resound with such an explosion of applause that greeted the appearance of Paderewski and resounded from the orchestra pit to the highest balconies.” After the third act he received a laurel wreath with ribbons in Polish colors; the wreath was almost his own size. He stated in interviews after the premiere:

I cannot express what I feel. I performed for numerous American auditoria, sometimes I played my own compositions, but never until now, did I experience such a triumph as today. Obviously, it is my first attempt at being an opera composer and I am truly grateful to the American public that they liked so much what I did. I have only words of praise for the ensemble of performers . . . I’m particularly grateful to Madame Sembrich. She completely changed her voice for this part and she triumphed . . . About Mr. Bandrowski I do not need to talk. He is, of course, my friend, and he performed this part in a way that I expected it, when I asked Mr. Grau to engage him for this role.”

The premiere of Manru was one of the main subjects of the day for the New York press. Eleven daily papers appearing in the morning and afternoon (The Journal, Herald, Tribune, New York Times, Sun, World, Press, Telegram, Mail and Express, Commercial Advertiser, The News)and three evening dailies(Evening Sun, Evening World and Evening Post) published extensive reports of special envoys and critics. [19] The Journal, Herald and Telegram emphasized the scenery and the spectacle of the event: the unusual staging, the high-society public, the gowns and attire of the spectators, the behavior of the composer, his wife, and main performers, the applause of the audience, the statements by the composer, his wife and several eminent spectators. The attention of readers was attracted by long titles set in a large, bold font, as well as numerous photographs of the composer, soloists, and ensemble scenes. The New York press had its counterpart in the reports published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Press. The provincial dailies published the correspondence of their own special envoys, or reports made available by the agency of Associated Press, and very favorable to Paderewski.

The opinions of music critics had a great impact on further history of Manru in the U.S. The critical evaluation was already apparent in the titles of reports from the premiere. Let us cite some polar opposites. The title in Journal read: “Paderewski’s Opera is an Artistic Triumph. The Work is Beautiful and has an Exceptional Score. The American Premiere of the Work of the Great Composer is Accepted by the New York Society.” In contrast, The News was critical, with a headline that stated: “Manru is an Embarrassment for Critics. Paderewski’s Opera Fails to Win full Approval. Beautiful and Strong in Fragments, but Not as a Whole. The Atmosphere of the Work – a Tragic Love of two Gypsies – is True, but the Action Drags in the Second Act.” Finally, the most critical opinion from the headlines of The Press: “Manru is Diluted Wagner. Noisily Accepted at the Met Seems to be for Orchestra not for Voices.”

The orchestral scoring found universal acclaim. According to the music critic of the New York Journal, Laura Dantziger,

Paderewski proved his mastery. He succeeded in creating true mood, in which the characters feel at home. What they say is always dressed up in musical language which seems to be natural for them . . . The composer does not strive – as many do – to achieve extraordinary effects and to express himself in a way different from others. All of his music is marked by sincerity and always gives an impression of simplicity and spontaneity.

The reviewer in the daily The World selected for praise fragments based on gypsy motives, especially in the third act, in which Paderewski “is truly himself, original, extraordinary, fascinating, as if he were playing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody). The Philadelphia Inquirer noted: “The music of Manru fully reflects the nationality of the Pole both in its intention and its color.”

Numerous reviewers mentioned as the most important issue the imitation of other composers, especially Wagner; in particular the scene in the blacksmith’s reminded critics of the scene of forging swords by the dwarf Mimi in the first act of Siegfrid. “It is hard to deny that Wagner had a significant influence on the Polish composer,” stated Dantziger. “It is simply unforgivable” – judged The World.The Press also attacked Paderewski on this issue: “Ignacy has more music in his fingers than in his head. His score is devoid of invention. It is governed by the spirit of Bayreuth and by the echoes of Siegfrid and of The Gold of the Rhein.” Nonetheless, the same paper pointed out that the score of Manru also included fragments of delicate melodies in which Paderewski liberated himself from the influence of the German master and which he sang by himself. “In the final reckoning, it is better to be the first Paderewski than a second Wagner.”

The New York Herald noted that:

The influence of Wagner is not easy to avoid . . . Would anyone be willing to give up the warmth and the variety of colors to which the prophet of Bayreuth pointed the way? But these means used in orchestration [in Manru], were intended with moderation, charmingly diverse, and always selected with a great consideration.”

Paderewski was sensitive to the accusations of imitating Wagner. Two days after the premiere he stated the following for the envoy from Herald.

Some think that Manru is not my own opera. They say that it contains borrowings from Wagner. However, there is no such thing in music as a theft of a theme. Absolute originality does not exist in music. It is the temperament of a composer that creates a work. In its form he cannot act differently but follow others, who were there before. When such a great genius as Wagner introduces a musical form that better reflects the whole idea, it is not a sin, but a duty to follow him . . . A work of music has to be constructed, as a house, or a church. An architect cannot be accused of imitation simply because he placed windows in the house. He did it only what others did before him . . . Let us look at the introduction to the third act of Manru. It was criticized. It contains a phrase, a small phrase that resembles a theme from the Walküre. I know it. I tried to remove it, but I could not. Others heard it and now talk about borrowing from the Walküre.

This matter was of great concern to him and three weeks later, in an interview for Collier’s Weekly he returned to this question:[20]

I have never said at any time that I wrote Manru under the influence of Wagner. It is impossible now for any composer of an opera to be free from his style, since Wagner impressed himself for all time on opera. But only to that extent was I affected by that composer when I wrote Manru. I have indeed endeavored to follow a middle course between the Wagnerian and the Italian operas. I have tried to retain in the vocal parts the old Italian song form when the lyric scenes permitted of that treatment. I have given the dramatic music to the orchestra in the style of Wagner. I think that the ideal form of opera is to be found between the school of Wagner and the Italian composers.

According to Paderewski’s interview, the “complete originality” of Manru primarily resided in its subject, i.e. the subordination of love to race. He explained: “It is not love of the gypsy Ana that takes Manru back to his tribe. It is the love of his race as it is represented to him through the music that the old gypsy plays to him on the violin.”

The general evaluation of Manru was influenced by the unanimously negative opinion about the libretto of this opera. Nossig’s text was criticized for mistakes and errors in the dramatic construction of the play; critics stated that it did not gradually intensify the tension, or that it created tension at inopportune moments. They also thought that there were mistakes in the outlining of characters, errors in the logic of their actions, and finally, that the whole conception of the work was at fault. Difficulties in the cooperation between Paderewski and Nossig were usually blamed for these problems. The Commercial Advertiser stated:

Luckily the subject of the opera in itself is so great that the librettist could not bury it entirely and as soon as it surfaced in the third act, the composer captured it and treated it in a way that allows us to believe, that if he had an honest chance in the initial two acts, the whole opera would have become an amazing masterpiece.

The New York premiere of Manru on 14 February 1902 was a great celebration of Polish music on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. The factors contributing to this triumph included the Polish character of the music – “it is a rhapsody, a truly Polish rhapsody” – as well as the Polishness of the composer and the Polish cast in the two main roles. It was first of all the talent and hard work of Marcellina Sembrich and Aleksander Bandrowski that made Manru such a great success in New York.

Sembrich as Ulana. Tribune, 23 February 1902. Press clipping in Research Collection, New York Public Library, Performing Arts Division.

Marcellina Sembrich had been known and admired in New York for 19 years, since the first days of the Metropolitan Opera. She received ample praise at this time also. For instance, the Herald wrote:

Madame Sembrich was Ulana, a beautiful Galician girl and in this role she was as successful as it was expected. Her best friends, however, expected this success only in half. She was astounding in every respect: saturating her voice and her acting with such a tragedy that one could hardly expect of a performer of main parts in The Barber of Seville or the Daughter of the Squadron.

The Evening Sun thought that it was Sembrich who saved the whole opera: Manru owes much to Sembrich with her doll-like costumes and charming singing . . . She herself might have smiled at the fluttering of upper tones that she is ordinarily well able to sustain without a crotchet or quaver.” In an interview for Collier’s Weekly, two weeks after the premiere, Sembrich stated:

I accepted the part of Ulana, a peasant woman and the wife of Manru, as a service to my friend and fellow countryman. I am not a dramatic soprano and the role of Ulana is not one in which I would usually appear. I am a Rosina, not a Brunhilde. I felt, though, that in the character of Ulana, there are certain possibilities even for me and I was pleased, as a Polish woman, that I could help the composer in presenting this opera to the American public, in the way that he wanted to see . . . After beginning to work on this score I found in it beautiful fragments, which I was delighted to be able to sing. I come from Galicia and I may only sympathize with the feelings of a peasant daughter, Ulana, with her character. Moreover, the longer I studied the score, the more attracted to it I became . . . Every one of us, no matter how much we love singing, could not resist the pleasure of performing the few wonderful phrases of the lullaby of Ulana or of the beautiful melody of the duet of Manru and Ulana from the second act. These two fragments of the opera will undoubtedly please every singer.

Bandrowski had a much more difficult task: he had to prove that he was not imposed upon the manager by Paderewski without a clear reason. Moreover, this performance was his New York debut and he was singing the part of Manru for the first time in English. The New York Journal evaluated the results of his efforts thus: “A singer of an impressive appearance, he behaved himself and used gestures with verve and the anxiety of a barbarian-nomad. His voice, though unusually pleasant, truly “tenor”, is too often exploited and the high tones are forced.” The Herald also noticed his effort: “Mr. Bandrowski worked for his success, and it was hard work. His dramatic voice is an authentic asset for the ensemble of Grau and should be revealed in other operas. His performance of the aria with the hammer in the second act should earn him laurel wreaths.” An interesting opinion appeared in The Evening World: “Mr. Bandrowski turned out to be the pleasant surprise of the evening . . . his voice is full and sweet, with excellent lyrical capabilities, and his acting is full of charm.”The Evening Sun wrote (on 15 February 1902) that “no tenor in the troupe this year could have done better with the title part . . . The most serious demands on the tenor were bravely met.” Finally, the Philadelphia Public Ledger emphasized that “he has an impressive stage persona and he dramatically fulfilled the composer’s ideal of the hero.”

David Bispham, the baritone mentioned earlier who performed the role of Urok, attracted the most attention from both the audiences and the critics. The journalists stated that his conception of this role, “though generally convincing in its wild and unreal aspect, was somewhat exaggerated” and Bispham himself was “so focused on his own acting that several times missed the cues to start singing.” The reporter for the Associated Press Agency concluded however, that Bispham “performed the part of Urok magnificently and one truly could say that never before did he sing or play better.” Among other performers, Fritzi Scheff of Vienna was considered a “fascinating Aza” – she conquered the MET; contralto Louise Homer (the wife of American composer Sidney Homer; she performed at the Met for one year) was greeted with moderate praise for her performance in the role of Jadwiga. [21] Robert Blass, a 35-year-old New Yorker, who was the old Gypsy man Jagu,[22] and 37-year-old bass Adolf Muhlmann as Oros were considered to be acceptable in their parts.

Walter Damrosch, conductor, earned “the highest praise” for his “intent seriousness” with which he led the orchestra that “realized all of his demands.” The choir, led by Damrosch himself, also earned some accolades; the Metropolitan ballet was highly praised. Stage-designer Theodor Habelmann, a 60-year-old gentleman of noble appearance who had long collaborated with the Met, especially in the Wagner repertoire, this time was praised for the moving panorama in the third act of Manru. The costumes of the soloists were considered “exceptionally artistic: “Sembrich appeared in an original górale costume that she was given by Paderewski.

The most praise for this premiere was offered to manager Maurice Grau. Henry Krehbiel wrote: “Mr. Grau achieved miracles at the Metropolitan Opera since the time that there was a gossip about Manru being staged. This opera was created out of nothing in the middle of an unusually busy season, but it had an exceptionally good appearance.” In response, Grau made the following statement for the press: [22]

I chose Paderewski’s opera […] because it turned out to be the greatest of recent successes in Europe. Experience confirmed the rightness of my opinion. The public present at the premiere was the most numerous that has ever gathered at the Met’s premiere of a new opera. All the records of operatic novelties in New York were broken.

The second day after the premiere, 15 February 1902, Paderewski appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York – it was his first appearance there during his fifth American tour. Meanwhile, Manru began an independent life on the operatic stages in the U.S. On Tuesday, 18 February 1902 the cast from the Metropolitan Opera presented the premiere of Paderewski’s work in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Music; the spectacle was repeated on 20 February and this performance was, according to the local press, a much “greater triumph” than the premiere itself. The public received Manru with great enthusiasm, much greater in fact than Carmenthat was played earlier that day.

The second New York performance of Manru on 8 March 1902 took place at the same time as Paderewski’s own recital at Carnegie Hall. The Tribune claimed the following day that the three thousand listeners at Carnegie Hall and the four thousand that filled the Metropolitan Opera’s auditorium “gave an homage to the genius of Paderewski.” It was estimated that several hundred disappointed New Yorkers did not get tickets for the recital; about one thousand music lovers could not get into the Metropolitan Opera. The press also stated that it was the best performance of Manru in New York. [23] It was also the end of opera season in that city; a season that brought Grau two hundred thousand dollars more than the previous one.


The Met ensemble soon traveled to Boston, where Manru was staged on 15 March. During Holy Week the performers stayed in New York; on 25 March a performance was given to benefit the Actor’s Home Fund. The demand for tickets was astounding: there were three times as many requests as the Met auditorium could hold, the Fund received eleven thousand dollars as a result of this benefit performance. The Chicago audience, “fully and without any reservations, enthusiastic” received Manru on 5 April; there were six curtain calls. Thanks to the Grau ensemble, Pittsburgh (15 April) and Baltimore also had a chance to experience this work. Paderewski well remembered the success of Manru and stated later: “The opera was received very warmly. Madame Sembrich was simply astounding. Bandrowski sang magnificently, and Walter Damrosch conducted in an excellent manner. The whole, therefore, was perfect.”

Recalling the American premiere of Manru one hundred years later we can consider it a great success for Polish music, Polish art, Polish musicians, and a Polish composer. The success of Manru on the American operatic stage continued the successes and achievements of Henryk Wieniawski, Helena Modrzejewska, Jozef Hoffman, Jan and Edward Reszke, Marcellina Sembrich-Kochanska, and Ignacy Jan Paderewski himself. Manru was a new chapter in the book of such achievements, new proof of the vitality and diversity of the culture of a nation that was deprived for over one hundred years of its independence. It was one more significant argument in favor of the Poles’ right to a sovereign and independent existence, it personified Poland’s longing for freedom. This event deserves to be remembered and recorded in the annals of Polish music and, in particular, of Polish opera.


Original publication data: Andrzej Piber, “Recepcja Manru w USA” [The reception of Manru in the USA], in Warsztat kompozytorski, wykonawstwo i koncepcje polityczne Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego [Composers workshop: Performance and political conceptions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski] [Meeting: Cracow, 1991]. Edited by Andrzej Sitarz and Wojciech Marchwica. Musica Iagellonica. Kraków: U. Jagiellonski Katedra Historii i Teorii Muzyki, 1991, 120-133. Notes for Piber’s article are added by Maja Trochimczyk and Linda Schubert. [Back]

According to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Alfred Nossig (1864-1943) was a writer, sculptor, and Zionist theoretician whose interest in Jewish emigration made him a collaborator with the German authorities. He was executed by the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa in February 1943; he is known to have reported to the Gestapo. Before the war Nossig wrote about the Jewish “race” and its influence on the world, for instance in Integrales Judentum (Vienna, Berlin, New York, 1922). The name of the city of Lwów will be spelled here in the Polish fashion; the city was known as Lemberg under Austrian government and is currently named Lviv. [Back]

Manru. Lyrical drama in 3 acts to a libretto by Alfred Nossig, based on Józef Ignacy Kraszewski’s novel, Chata za wsią 1893-1901. Chata za wsią [A hut beyond the village] is a novel in three volumes first published in 1854-1855; with numerous reprints. It is possible that the libretto of Manru was based on a 1872 edition, revised by the author (Lwów: W ksieg. Gubrynowicza i Schmidta). Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812-1887) was a prolific writer of novels, frequently dealing with folk culture and national themes. This novel also provided the source for Zygmunt Noskowski’s “folk drama” postdating Paderewski’s ManruChata za wsią, folk drama in five acts with song and dance; written by Zofia Meller and I. K. Galasiewicz, with the music of Zygmunt Noskowski (Chicago: Druk. i nakł. Władysława Dyniewicza, 1908). [Back]

Aleksander Bandrowski-Sas [Brandt], (1860-1913). One of the finest operatic tenors of his day, and excelling in Wagner in particular, this Polish-born singer was also a librettist and translator. He is especially remembered for his work in Manru. [Back]

Helena Ruszkowska-Zboińska (1880-1946) was a soprano who studied at the Lwów Conservatory; after performing in Manru travelled to Vienna, Milan, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Madrid. After returning to Poland shared her appearances between operas in Warsaw and Lwów. Her main roles include Brunhilde in Wagner’s Siegfried and Desdemone in Verdi’s Otello.[Back]

Janina Korolewicz -Waydowa (1880-1955), known in her youth as Korolewiczówna, was a soprano who studied at the Lwów Conservatory and debuted in The Haunted Manor by Moniuszko. She performed in La Sommnabulla by Bellini, Carmen by Bizet, Faust by Gounod and La Traviata by Verdi. She performed in Warsaw, and since 1902 toured operatic scenes of Europe and Russia. In 1910 performed at the Metropolitan Opera House and toured the U.S. After 1917 was active as a benefactor, reviving the Warsaw Opera. [Back]

This and the majority of citations from American press are re-translated from Polish. The press clippings about Manru in the New York Public Library Performing Arts Division do not indicate the source of each excerpt and were helpful in identifying only one exact citation. [Back]

Manru is killed in the opera’s finale and falls off the cliff. The full libretto with English translation is reprinted in the current issue of this Journal. [Back]

Marcellina Kochańska-Sembrich-Stengel (1858-1935) was a coloratura soprano, studied with her father (violin), then in Lwów Conservatory, Vienna, and Milan. Her operatic debut took place in Athens in 1877. In 1878-80 she performed in Dresden, since 1883 was the soloist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. After retiring from the stage she taught at the Juilliard School of Music and at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her delicate, expressive and wide-ranging voice (c1-f3) appeared in a huge repertoire, including Italian operas, as well as Mozart, Meyerbeer, Verdi, and Wagner. As a recital singer she promoted Polish composers, including songs by Chopin, Żeleński, Zarzycki, and others, while accompanying herself on the piano. [Back]

Metropolitan Opera Company is the name for a series of organizations performing operas in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The house was built by members of New York society and the first presentation took place on Oct. 22, 1883, (Gounod’s Faust). Among the early managers were Henry E. Abbey, Leopold Damrosch, Edmond Stanton, John B. Schoeffel, and Maurice Grau. There were no performances due to a fire in 1892-93. The Maurice Grau Opera Company was active from 1898 to 1903, and the period was filled with virtuoso singers. The Conried Metropolitan Opera Company was formed with Heinrich Conried as manager in 1903. Since 1909 the name of the Metropolitan Opera was formally used. [Back]

Edward Reszke, or Edouard de Reszke, (1853-1971), Polish bass. After singing in Le Cid in Paris, his career loosely followed that of his brother Jan in London, Chicago and New York. His repertory was large and included many Wagner roles. Jan Reszke (Jean de Reszke), 1840-1925, Polish tenor. He made his American debut in Chicago as Lohengrin and then at the Met as Romeo in 1891. He was renowned for both French and Wagnerian roles. [Back]

Emma Eames (1865-1952), American soprano who debuted in 1889 as Gounod’ Juliet, made both her Covent Garden and Metropolitan Opera debuts in 1891, and continued to sing at the Met until her unexpected retirement in 1909 at the height of her powers. Lilian Nordica (original name: Lillian Norton; 1857-1914). American soprano who made her concert debut with Patrick Gilmore’s band and later studied opera in Milan. She sang Elsa in the first Bayreuth production of Lohengrin (extensively coached by Cosima Wagner) and was known primarily as a Wagnerian singer during her career with the Met (1893-1907). Emma Calve (Rosa-Noemie de Roquer Calvet; 1858-1942), a French soprano who became especially known for her Carmen (Massenet also wrote roles for her). In 1904 she announced her intention to leave the stage, but continued to sing and give concerts until 1927. Dame Nellie Melba (Helen Porter Mitchell, 1861-1931). Australian soprano who became well-known for singing Gounod heroines and later, Puccini’s Mimi. Melba’s association with the Met was irregular and lasted until 1910, though she continued to sing at Covent Garden until 1926. Her name became a household word, and “melba toast” and “peach melba” are named after her. [Back]

Martin Mayer, The Met: One Hundred Years of Grand Opera. (New York: Simon & Schuster and the Metropolitan Opera Guild; London: Thames a Hudson, 1983).based mostly on information in the Metropolitan archives, including minutes of the various boards of directors, the correspondence of Edward Ziegler and of Rudolf Bing, salary records, annotated programs, etc. Attention is given to architectural, social, and financial, as well as musical and dramatic matters. [Back]

Henry Edward Krehbiel (1854-1923), American critic and writer on music. The music critic for the New York Tribune, he held a position of authority among critics and did much to advance the cause of Wagnerian opera in the U.S. He is also remembered for his revised and completed edition of Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, published for the first time in English in that edition. Krehbiel also wrote several popular books on music.[Back]

Howard Tickner, music critic for the Boston Sunday Herald, is not noted in RILM, PCI or other databases of the period. [Back]

Walter Damrosch (1862-1950), American conductor and composer of German birth. He was assistant to his father Leopold when the latter began a series of performances of German opera at the Met. Walter also conducted the Damrosch Opera Company (1894-99), which competed with the Met; he later became closely associated with the New York Symphony (later Philharmonic) Society. An important and influential conductor, Damrosch also composed four operas. [Back]

Fritzi Scheff (1879-1954), Austrian soprano. Her repertory included Cherubino, Zerlina, Marguerite, and Elsa. The title roles of two Victor Herbert operettas, Babette and Mlle. Modiste were written especially for her; with their success she moved from opera to Broadway. [Back]

Ignacy Jan Paderewski: Manru, New York: Schirmer, 1901, piano reduction. This edition is used as a source for the libretto included in this Journal. [Back]

Press clippings are preserved in the Paderewski scrapbooks in the Research Collection of the New York Public Library, Performing Arts Division. Unfortunately only clippings from The Saturday Evening Post, Tribune, New York Times and Paderewski’s interview in Collier’s Weekly are identified. [20].
Interview with Paderewski from Collier’s Weekly, cited in another paper, no date, no title. Fragment found in the Paderewski scrapbooks; New York Public Library, Performing Arts Division, Research Collection.[Back]

The article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians states that she debuted in the Met opera on tour in 1900 and didn’t resign until 1919. They mention “a long and successful Metropolitan career. [Back]

Robert Blass (1867-1930), German American bass. He first appeared at the Met in 1900 and remained until 1910 (he returned in 1920 to sing King Mark). Though he was apparently not highly rated at the Met, musicologist J.B. Steane in New Grove points out that his recordings are of great beauty. [Back]

Statement preserved in the archives of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.[Back]