Paria (“The Pariah”, completed in 1869) was the last of Moniuszko’s six operas and he had high hopes for its success, which proved misplaced. The plot is based on a play by Dalvigne set in India at a Brahmin temple. Neala, the daughter of High Priest Akebar, is set to be a priestess but has fallen in love with Idamor, a warrior who has revitalised the local militia and led a series of victorious campaigns against rival territories. As a reward, and a political gambit to defuse the ambitions of the warrior caste, Akebar decides to marry Neala to Idamor.
Into the mix steps Jares, a pariah from an unclean caste. Idamor intervenes to prevent his lynching and is reminded of his own humble origins. More than this, Jares is Idamor’s long-lost father (only in the world of opera!) and on the day of his son’s wedding inadvertently exposes Idamor as a pariah, whereupon Akebar and the Brahmins turn upon their former hero. On discovering that Idamor is dead, Neala renounces her former life and leaves with Jares.
Szczecin’s Castle Opera provide a nicely balanced account of the opera, with a fine set of principals, not least Katarzyna Holysz, who achieves some radiance as Neala in her affecting final Cavatina, and Tomasz Kuk as her ardent beloved Idamor. The trouble is, neither are given a great deal to work with. It is not that Moniuszko’s music lacks tunes or pleasing orchestration – it has both – but it is wanting in real dramatic power. The scenario contains plenty of opportunities for scenes of tension and psychological insight, yet the emotional range of the music is muted to the point of being stunted. Nor does the music sound exotic or Indian in any way – this is no Polish Padmâvatî – rather it sounds like a French opera with a few Polish accents. Recorded in September last year, Dux’s sound is more than serviceable although the English translations of the booklet-notes and libretto are clumsy in the extreme.