Operetta “Crai Nou”, in the heart of Romania


Bucharest National Opera is presenting a unique performance highlighting a sensitive, brilliant composer: Ciprian Porumbescu, celebrating the 169th anniversary of his birth. Having been invited by Alba Iulia City Hall to take part in the events marking the 100th anniversary of the King and Queen’s Coronation, Bucharest National Opera will present a semi-staged version of the operetta “Crai Nou” on the stage of the House of Culture in Alba Iulia on Saturday, October 15th, at 7 pm.

Ciprian Porumbescu was born on October 14th 1853 in Șipotele Sucevei, into the family of the priest Iraclie Porumbescu. It was in his parents’ home that music entered little Ciprian’s heart. While he was at a local gathering, he heard a village fiddler playing his violin. From then on he was eagerly waiting for his parents to buy him a violin. His big chance was meeting musicologist Carol Miculi, a professor at the Lemberg Conservatory and a disciple of Chopin. Carol Miculi spent a few summers at Șipotele Sucevei. He was hosted by Ciprian’s father himself. Miculi realised Ciprian’s talent and initiated him to the musical notes.

Several years later, when the priest Iraclie was reassigned to Stupca, Ciprian took his first violin lessons at the school in Ilișești. Following that, he began studying piano and organ at the Higher Gymnasium in Suceava. When he would play the violin, Ciprian was phenomenal.

He was only 20 when he lost his mother. He pursued his studies, passed his Baccalaureate with honours and enrolled at the Theological Institute in Chernivtsi. The violin held no more secrets for him. At the Seminary, his studies paid off with exceptional liturgical compositions. In the autumn of 1875 the University of Chernivtsi was opened and the Romanian students formed the “Arboroasa” Society (whose president Ciprian became in his last year of seminary). Gifted and deeply rooted in singing, Ciprian Porumbescu met Berta Gorgon, the daughter of an Evangelical pastor from Ilișești, with whom he fell in love. As their families were of different religious backgrounds, they were not allowed to marry, and Berta was sent abroad, to live away from Ciprian.

 After graduating from Theological Seminary in October 1877, members of the “Arboroasa” were arrested on charges of high treason and framed for trial. Ciprian was arrested in his house in Stupca. The dungeon and bad food gave him tuberculosis. The violin, which he managed to take with him at the time of his arrest, was the only thing that brought him comfort. Ciprian came out of prison with death in his chest. He returned to the University of Chernivtsi. With great difficulty, he managed to go to Vienna to study. From Vienna he returned to Brasov, as a music teacher and conductor at the St. Nicholas Church, where he composed the operetta “Crai Nou”, which he performed in 1882, with outstanding success. It was the first Romanian operetta set to the music of Ciprian Porumbescu and the lyrics of Vasile Alecsandri.

First performed on March 11th 1882 in the festive hall of the Romanian Gymnasium in Brasov (today the “Andrei Șaguna” National College), the astonishing show was staged in two other performances, in the same year, in Brasov and Oravița. It was a dream come true for Ciprian, who confessed to his father: “And today, today I got to see my wish come true, I saw my dream with my own eyes, I had the frenzied applause for my opera, I heard hundreds of voices calling my name, full of enthusiasm, I saw myself lifted up, praised, flattered, laureate. What more can I say, what more can I expect from my life, from my future?”

 Aurel Mureșianu’s review at the time underlined the public success of the first national operetta: “We are sure that many are eagerly awaiting our review of Saturday and Sunday’s performance of the operetta “Crai Nou” (New Moon) written by Vasile Alecsandri for which Mr. Ciprian Porumbescu, music teacher at the Romanian Gymnasium here, composed the music. I attended both performances, but I must confess that there was little I could dedicate to the critics, as I wanted to fully savour the joy I felt at the sight of the beautiful little Romanians, who sang and played with such grace that it made your heart laugh.”

The operetta “Crai Nou” was, therefore, “one of the most popular creations of professional music, contributing to the composer’s reputation and to the prestige of national music” – according to musicologist Octavian Lazăr Cosma.

From Brasov, Ciprian travelled to Italy, from where he returned to the country shortly before leaving this world. At the age of nearly 30, on June 6th, 1883, he died in the arms of his sister, Maria, and his father, whispering to them: “Don’t let my music die!” As he wished, the colours of the Romanian flag were placed on his cross: “And when, my brothers, I go away/ From you, and die/ On my grave, put/ Our proud tricolour”.

Bucharest National Opera honours his memory. On the 169th anniversary of his birth, an exceptional performance will be staged in Alba Iulia on October 15th. The show had its premiere in Bucharest, but is set to delight audiences in other cities.

The manager of Bucharest National Opera explains the importance of the composer’s brilliant work and of the operetta “Crai Nou”: “I had not even read the libretto or the music in its complete form. Communism made sure that this composer and the music he composed reached me in the demonetised state typical of all propaganda material. But a special recording I made at one point of one of Dochița’s arias led me to discover a daimon of the composer and his work silhouetted alongside the great universal spirits. Since then, the road I have travelled with Ciprian Porumbescu, through study, rehearsals and special printings, has reconfirmed the revelation of my first intuitions. Comparing Ciprian Porumbescu with George Enescu is like trying to determine whether Henri Coanda is a more important personality than Traian Vuia. And, like the latter, Ciprian Porumbescu, although he did not manage to cross the Carpathian chain, was nevertheless the first Romanian composer who managed to fly on what he created. I believe that, from now on, it is our duty to keep him flying, to keep him where he belongs.”