The first performance of the two-act version was in a concert performance in Vilnius on 1 January 1848. The staged premiere took place in the same city on 28 February 1854. A four-act version was performed in Warsaw on 1 January 1858. The opera was subsequently produced in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Turkey, Russia and Cuba.
More recently, in June 2004 the Opera has been staged in Kraków Zakrzówek Nature Park as an outdoor performance with horses, fireworks, special effects, and attendance exceeding 6,000 viewers. It was produced by Krzysztof Jasiński under the musical direction of Wojciech Michniewski, with the ballet and orchestra of the Opera Krakowska and with Ewa Biegas and Maria Mitrosz alternating in the title role. The Opera has been produced again on stage of the Kraków Opera in December 2011 (performed till February 2012) with sopranos Magdalena Barylak, Ewa Biegas, and Ewa Vesin, as well as Mariusz Kwiecien, soloist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
In 2010 a new English translation by Donald Pippin was performed by Pocket Opera in San Francisco and Berkeley. The opera was originally performed in the United States by the Polonia Opera Company under its director Louis Kowalski. He staged the opera in many cities with Polish populations, such as New York in Carnegie Hall, Detroit, Hartford and Chicago. He last staged Halka at Carnegie Hall on May 24, 1959, about 6 months before his death. He was survived by his wife, Carolyn Kowalski, his daughter Wanda and his son, Theodore.
An American performance of Halka was performed in New York City by the Bel Canto Opera in the Robert F. Wagner School Theatre in June 1982. The premiere was met with generally positive review by The New York Times, as well as enthusiastic review in the Polish daily on June 16, 1983.
It is considered one of Moniuszko's greatest operas. Noted musicologist Carl Dalhaus in his book Nineteenth-century Music describes Halka as "The Polish national opera" (Dalhaus 222). The music in Halka is highly melodic, deeply lyrical and Polish in character. It includes moving poetic arias like "Gdybym rannym słonkiem" (If by the Morning Sun) and Szumią jodły (Sighing Firs), scenes depicting the life of the Polish nobility (szlachta) and highlanders (Gorals), as well as spectacular dance sequences. The story is that of the tragic love of the title character, the highlander girl Halka, for the noble Janusz, who abandons her to wed the daughter of the Esquire. It is a tale of jealousy and sacrifice.
Guests at an engagement party are happy to note that the wedding of Janusz, a wealthy young landowner, to Zofia, the daughter of an even wealthier landowner named Stolnik, will unite two huge estates. Zofia and Janusz celebrate a toast with Stolnik, and Stolnik calls Janusz the son he has always wanted. The party is disturbed by a plaintive wailing from outside. It seems to be a troubled young girl, crying for her lost love. The kind-hearted Zofia asks Janusz to talk to the girl, hoping he will comfort her; he reluctantly agrees.
Dziemba, the steward of Stolnik's estate, ushers in the woebegone creature. This is Halka. To the audience's surprise, she appears to know Janusz. It turns out that he himself is her lost love; he promised her marriage while in her village in the mountains but then disappeared. As soon as Halka looks into Janusz's eyes, she is convinced that his feelings for her haven't changed, despite the disquieting rumours she had heard to the contrary. Halka throws her arms around Janusz and he says that he still loves her as he did before. He tells Halka to meet him after dark at the statue of the Virgin Mary by the river; they will escape together to start a new life somewhere else. Once Halka goes out, Janusz returns to the party.
Halka is waiting for Janusz by the river. She is disturbed by the appearance of not Janusz, but Jontek, a friend from her mountain village. Jontek has been in (unrequited) love with Halka for many years. Halka tells him happily that Janusz still loves her, but Jontek insists that she has been betrayed. Jontek can't convince Halka until he drags her to the scene of the party, where she sees that Janusz has become engaged to Zofia. Halka is devastated and compares herself to a dove who has been ripped to pieces by a falcon.
Act 3 opens with happy scenes of normal life back in Halka's mountain village. The villagers are dismayed by the arrival of Jontek and an unrecognisable woman, who turns out to be the saddened Halka. They are angry when they hear about Janusz's engagement and even angrier when they realise that Halka is pregnant. Halka is in a world of her own, crushed by grief and fixated on the images of the dove being broken by the falcon. A black raven passes overhead, boding ill for everyone.
Jontek is very sad about Halka. When a piper, in the village to play at the wedding of Janusz and Zofia, appears playing a happy tune, Jontek asks him what there is to be so happy about. The piper mollifies him by playing a haunting mountain song. Jontek describes his love for Halka and the many wonders of nature she reminds him of.
When Janusz and Zofia arrive in the village to celebrate their wedding, the angry villagers have to be convinced to act festive by Dziemba, the steward, who persuades them to do so out of respect for the bride. Zofia notices that Halka is terribly upset. She thinks she has seen Halka somewhere before, and even asks her what's wrong. Janusz admits that Halka is the girl who interrupted their engagement party but whisks Zofia into the church before she can ask any more questions. Halka is heartbroken to see that Janusz is going through with the marriage. She has lost her baby and feels completely alone. In a fit of rage, she decides to burn down the church. However, she decides to let Janusz live and throws herself into the river instead.
- Halka: Tatiana Zacharczuk, Władimir Kuzmienko, Zbigniew Macias, Katarzyna Suska, Piotr Nowacki. Antoni Wicherek cond., Soloists, Choir, Ballet and Orchestra of The Great Theatre National Opera in Warsaw. DVD, 2h10m, ZPR Records, 1999
- Halka: Tatiana Borodina, Oleh Lykhach, Aleksandra Buczek, Mariusz Godlewski, Radosław Żukowski, Zbigniew Kryczka, Jacek Ryś, Rafał Majzner, Andrzej Kalinin, Rafał Majzner, Janusz Zawadzki. Ewa Michnik cond., Wrocław Opera Orchestra, Chorus & Ballet. DVD, 2h16m, DUX Recording Producers/Metronome. 2007. Cat. no: DVD DUX 9538, Barcode: 5902547095387
- Halka: Barbara Zagorzanka, Wieslaw Ochman, Jerzy Ostapuik, Ryszarda Racewicz, Andrzej Hiolski, Robert Satanowski, Cond., Orchestra and Choir of Theater Wielki (Warsaw), Recorded 14 October 1986, Classic Produktion Osnabrück.
- Stanislaw Moniuszko: H A L K A: Opera in 4 acts, Libretto Włodzimierz Wolski, Orchestral Score (Warszawa 1861), Facsimile Edition, Introduction and Commentaries: Grzegorz Zieziula, vol. 1–4, Warszawa 2012: Instytut Sztuki PAN – Stowarzyszenie Liber Pro Arte, ISBN 978-83-63877-12-5, ISBN 978-83-92343-80-6; (about the edition, based on first 1861 printing of the orchestral score, Polish Academy of Sciences.).
- The Oxford Dictionary of Opera by John Warrack and Ewan West (1992), 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5; p. 404: Stanisław Moniuszko.
- The notes for synopsis are based on the English language translation by Donald Pippin (2010).
- Carl Dalhaus (1991). Nineteenth-Century Music. Berkeley: University of California Press.