Vatroslav Lisinski: Porin (1897/composed 1851)

Grand Opera in Five Acts. Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes (film version).

Okay, so this one required reconstructing and I do not have all of the music, but what has been recorded all appears to be here so this is the most anyone can hear of this opera without attending a live performance (which of this title is extremely rare). Today the Porin is the name of a Croatian musical achievement award, dating back to 1994.

Also, the opera has nothing to do with the biblical festival of Purim. I thought this at first since it was by Lisinski, but there is absolutely no connection at all. The plot is taken from early Croatian national history.

Similarly to the first opera Lisinski (ne Fuchs) wrote Love and Malice, Porin also has a libretto by the Zagreb-born Greek Dimitrije Demeter. So, like its predecessor, Porin, and thus early Croatian opera, is the product of a Jewish composer and a Greek poet, so technically not Croatian at all, at least not ethnically. Given that the work is meant to be an homage to Meyerbeer, it is hard to say if the finished product is not truly more of an example of Jewish art than of Croatian art.

Designed to be the Croatian equivalent of a Meyerbeerian grand opera, Porin was never really given a change to compete, being first performed decades after the death of its composer, by which time its style was well out of date. It has never been recorded complete, instead various highlights have been released twice (including around 58 minutes of selections from acts 3, 4, and 5 recorded in 1980, and 52 minutes from selections of all five acts recorded in 1958) including less than an hour of the score, along with a 1967 Yugoslav film adaptation which is the longest document of the score at around an hour and a half which at least presents the complete storyline of the opera. I will be reviewing all three here.

The 1958 highlights include the overture, introduction to act one, the aria for Irmengarda in act one and her duet with Porin, the opening chorus of Croatian women and the finale of act two, the finale of act three with the aria for Porin, the prison aria for Sveslav in act four, and the act five closing choral-dance number. The 1980 highlights are taken entirely from the last three acts, including the duet between Irmengarda and Kocelin, the aria and finale for Porin in act three, the symphonic battle in act four scene one, along with the aria for Sveslav and the trio with the two women in the following scene, followed by a slightly longer rendering of act five (with what appears to be the overture at the end, or possibly a ballet section).

SETTING: Frankish occupied Croatia, sometime between 823 and 830 C.E.. The plot concerns Kocelin (baritone) the Frankish governor of Croatia, his elder sister Irmengarda (soprano) who is in unrequited love with the Croatian nobleman Porin (tenor), who in turn is in love with the Croatian princess Zorka (soprano) the daughter of the recently deceased prince Ljudevit Posavski, and granddaughter of the elder Sveslav (bass). When Kocelin attempts to trick the Croatian nobles by inviting them to a party, during which he plans to murder all of them in order to take all of their lands, Irmengarda warns her beloved Porin of the plot and none of the nobles show up at the party. Sveslav and Zorka are arrested and imprisoned, although eventually Irmengarda frees Zorka in an attempt to seduce Porin. In the end, Irmengarda attempts to comfort her brother (as he lays dying) who curses her for having revealed the plot against the Croats. Porin defeats the Franks, is reunited with Zorka, and Irmengarda commits suicide out of shame.

1980 Highlights from Acts 3, 4, and 5 (Overture at end)
1958 Highlights Album.

A 1919 critical edition of the score is available at Petrucci Library:

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: (27 minutes)

0: The ten minute long overture ** starts off with a bit of doom, but eventually comes close to the cross between The Pastoral Symphony, Donizetti, and Erkel in its gentle rolling, then changing to something a bit more energetic and sinister. Finally, a bouncy little tune appears in the flute, then the oboe. It gets more energetic again, naturally, towards the conclusion, the melody originally from the flute getting a more jubilant treatment.

Scene 1: Throne room of Kocelin.

10: Slava tebi The brief opening chorus * leads to a long recitative for Kocelin as he plots out inviting the Croatian nobles to his death banquet. The chorus here can at times resemble traces of Balkan folk songs, especially as the herald (Klodvig) announces the invites. Around 18 pages of piano-vocal score has been cut here, first a chorus for the Frankish noblemen, then a scene (mostly recitative) between Klodvig and the chorus of noblemen, before the arrival (with trumpet fanfare) of Kocelin.

16: Smert od roba! The scene ends with a brief chorus * in which the Franks all agree to the murderous plot (but they have been overheard by Klotilda, the maid of Irmengarda.

Scene 2: Palace Gardens.

18: Zaplavi mi krasna Irmengarda has been informed by Klotilda as to the plot against the Croatian nobles, and fears for her beloved Porin, and so has decided to warn him and sent Klotilda to send for him (almost all of this plot-forwarding has been cut, including all of the music for Klotilda). A gentle aria for a gentle, noble, lady **.

21: O Porine! Irmengarda reveals the plot her brother will use against the Croats to Porin. The first part of the duet *.

24: Strele s neba sevaju The second part, as he thanks her for warning him, but she realizes that he does not love her **.

ACT 2: A mountain pass. (25 minutes)

Actually this act is in two scenes (The first is a mountain pass, the second is actually a secret headquarters for the Croatians).

1: S Bogom ostar A feminine chorus **, light like much of the other pastoral elements of the score, slightly reminding one of the prelude to Le Prophete, especially the cor anglais. Zorka has an aria in-between the verses of the chorus, but this has been cut.

10: O slobodo slasti A delicate tenor aria for Porin **, would be followed by a duet between he and Zorka, but the duet has been cut.

13: U boj! U boj! Instead, we go immediately into an energetic warrior chorus ** for the Croatian men and Sveslav. This quickly changes to a recitative between Sveslav and Zorka, the latter confessing her love for Porin to her grandfather.

17: Kada serda ona Sveslav and Porin encounter one another in an energetic duet ** in which Sveslav entrusts leadership to the younger man. Zorka arrives and presents him with the sword of her father, Ljudevit Posavski. He accepts the sword, and becomes the leader of the Croats against the Franks.

21: O nebesa stitite The stretta finale ***, probably meant to be the central moment of the opera (it is approximately the mid-point of the score) as Porin is declared leader and vows to marry Zorka and defeat the Franks.

ACT 3: (12 minutes, 22 minutes in 1980 highlights)

Scene 1: A room in the Frankish stronghold.

2: Already, the Franks have discovered that their plot has been divulged (but by whom?). A chorus and scene for Klotilda has been cut so we go immediately into a dialogue between Kocelin and Irmengarda as he questions his sister and her loyalties. She confesses her love for Porin, which prompts a rather good duet with a solid melody started off by Kocelin which must have used a Verdi as a model **. It appears to be adapted from a trio which included Klodvig.

Scene 2: A forest clearing.

6: Porin Svlada! Porin has been defeated by the Franks to a rather happy feminine chorus (chimes are a notable feature here) **. Although Porin has not been captured, Zorka and Sveslav have been, and are now imprisoned by the Franks.

8: Zorka moja! Zorka mila! This prompts yet another good tenor aria *** (this time with chorus) ending with a return of the concluding theme from the overture, a defiant march for Porin and the Croats who vow not to lose in their war against the Franks. (Although the finale appears to be intact, a large amount of orchestral march music and chorus work has been cut).

ACT 4: A prison dungeon in the Frankish stronghold. (13 minutes, 15 minutes in 1980 highlights)

The first scene of this act, which consists of a symphonic battle and aria for Kocelin on the field of battle, has been entirely cut. Instead, we cut directly to the second scene, where we find Zorka and Sveslav imprisoned. The symphonic battle is included in 1980 selections from acts 3, 4, and 5. The battle is a worthwhile piece of orchestral work, check it out at 22:54 into the video. The aria for Kocelin appears to not have been recorded.

1: First Zorka sings about her imprisonment ** (this aria does not appear to exist in the official score, where the scene mostly consists of an aria for Sveslav (which does follow in the performance here) before the arrival of Irmengarda.

4: The aria for Sveslav is at first full of grand-paternal love and includes a gentle cello solo **, which then morphs into a prayer to the Divine for deliverance.

10: Irmengarda! The two prisoners are shocked, angered, and a little horrified by the arrival of the sister of their great enemy, but Zorka quickly realizes that the woman is guided by their mutual love for Porin. She frees them both in a joyous trio **.

ACT 5: A courtyard in the Frankish stronghold. (11 minutes, 13 minutes in 1980 highlights)

2: The final act starts off with a prelude/ballet, march, and chorus (all cut here, but much of it can be heard in the 1980 highlights video). Instead, we cut directly to a recitative in which Porin announces (rather solemnly, in total contrast to the jubilation of the opening choral) that his mortal enemy lays dying. Kocelin is brought in and Irmengarda attempts to comfort him, but instead, he curses his sister for having set up the situation leading to his demise in the first place. As one can surmise, the finale is a rather dramatic occasion *** as Kocelin dies surrounded by his enemies and Irmengarda stabs herself with a strategically placed dagger. Ironically, it is only as they both die that Kocelin reconciles with her. Lisinski provides a rather lovely orchestral interlude as the bodies are carried out.

8: But we have to end the opera with a Hrvatska blockbuster musical number ** in the form of a choral-ballet sequence. This is expanded upon in the 1980 highlights.

COMMENTS:

For an opera named for this tenor role, this is really more of a soprano opera. Irmengarda is obviously the primary character, or at least the one who had the most sympathy from the composer. Her music is just lovely. Porin does get two excellent arias in acts two and three, but is otherwise a rather remote character. His rejection of Irmengarda can only be attributed to the need for him to be xenophobic, as her unrequited love is what causes the heart to ache more than anything else in the opera. Lisinski also writes his best music in the score for the sibling duo who are supposed to be the villains of the piece, whereas the heroic Croats are mostly rather dull. Perhaps the title is justified by being beloved by the more interesting character of Irmengarda. Zorka is comparatively a projection of Croatia in the ghostly form of a woman rather than a flesh and blood human being. She represents a theatrical and patriotic idealization. Her grandfather is more human, particularly in act four with his prayer and then with his interacts with Irmengarda before they are released. The idealization of Zorka can make the act three finale (in which Porin mourns over her imprisonment) seem droll at best. Must of the score has been cut for the film version, possibly as much as third to half of the music (at least eight numbers scattered through all five acts, the only scene appearing to be uncut being Act 3 Scene 2).

Lisinski certainly tries to render the setting as grand opera, with ballets, large choral sequences, symphonic battles, while also maintaining the intimate introspection of at least four of the characters.

I can not give a letter grade here (although it would be alpha), since what I have reviewed is really a shell of something which I think is probably much better than it appears to be at first glance. The 1980 recording gives the impression that the work is really a lost gem, and I am inclined to agree. Lisinski has three major modes here, jubilantly energetic, gentle, and religious solemnity. All three will please the ear, and this opera is well worth a listen (or several), and a complete recording, if anyone is up for it.

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