Opera Scotland

Bartered Bride Prodaná nevěsta

Music
Bedřich Smetana (born Litomyšl, Bohemia, 2 March 1824; died Prague, 12 May 1884)

Text
Karel Sabina.

Source
Original.

Premières
First performance: Prague (Provisional Theatre), 30 May 1866.
Revised version: Prague (Provisional Theatre), 25 September 1870.
First UK performance: London (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), 26 June 1895.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 28 October 1931.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 8 February 1978.

Background
Smetana is regarded as the founder of Czech musical culture, and The Bartered Bride has achieved iconic status as the Czechs’ national opera. This only followed a revision that jettisoned the original dialogue and introduced extensive and delightful dance sections. Smetana had worked in Sweden for a few years before returning to Prague when a new opera house was opened there. He was its chief conductor from 1866 to 1874. However the onset of severe tinnitus destroyed his hearing and he was obliged to spend the rest of his life as a composer only rather than combining this with conducting.

Main Characters
Krušina, a peasant farmer (baritone)
Ludmila, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
Mařenka, their daughter (soprano)
Mícha, a peasant farmer (bass)
Háta, his second wife (mezzo-soprano)
Vašek, their son (tenor)
Jeník, Mícha’s son by his first wife (tenor)
Kecal, a marriage broker (bass)

Plot Summary
The action has a village setting, starting with peasant merrymaking during a festival. The only unhappy people are Mařenka and Jeník. They are in love, but Mařenka is being steered by her parents towards a marriage with Vašek because they are in debt to his parents. Jeník is in fact Vašek’s half-brother, and has only just returned home after several years away due to the difficulty of his relationship with his stepmother. He has kept his origins a secret, and has not yet met his relations. The marriage-broker, Kecal, attempts to bribe Jeník to give up Mařenka, and is unaware of the trick played on him when he agrees to the condition that Jeník imposes – that she should marry Mícha’s son and no one else. Vašek has not met Mařenka before, and pretending to be someone else she puts him off the idea. Vašek is young and slightly simple, and is more interested in the arrival of a circus to entertain the villagers. Mařenka is upset on hearing she has been ‘sold’ by Jeník, and agrees to reconsider the idea of marrying Vašek. However she changes her mind again when Jeník reveals that he is Mícha’s son, and therefore has the right to marry her according to the agreed contract. Vašek proves his unsuitability as a husband when he appears as a circus performer, costumed as a dancing bear.

RECORDINGS

SUPRAPHON (2 CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1981

Conductor: Zdeněk Košler
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Gabriela Beňačková (Mařenka), Peter Dvorský (Jeník), Richard Novák (Kecal).

This recording is full of high spirits and beautifully played and sung by all concerned. The Czech Philharmonic sounds superb in the string of infectiously conducted dances that pepper this score. The cast represent a new generation of singers who emerged in the 1970s and had international careers denied to earlier colleagues. Beňačková has a lovely voice with none of the stridency that used to mar some of her predecessors’ singing. Dvorský also had a major international career singing the French and Italian repertoire in many major opera houses. Miroslav Kopp makes a sympathetic character of Vašek.

EMI Classics for Pleasure (1 CD – excerpts) Sung in English Recorded 1962

Conductor: James Lockhart
Sadler’s Wells Opera Orchestra
Ava June (Mařenka), Donald Smith (Jeník), John Holmes (Kecal).

This performance of extracts is a thoroughly enjoyable reminder of how good the Sadler’s Wells company could be in the days when it divided its time between performances in Rosebery Avenue and tours of “the provinces”. The conductor is a Scot, very young at the time, who spent most of his career running opera houses in Germany, although he is also known as an accomplished accompanist for singers of the calibre of Margaret Price. Donald Smith and Kevin Miller, who sings Vašek, are examples of the many excellent Australian singers who devoted large parts of their careers to working in Britain before their own operatic industry grew to the extent it has now reached, following the opening of the Sydney Opera House, and it is a pity that they made few recordings. The diction of all is beautifully clear.

The Cast

Circus artist
 
Esmeralda
 a dancer
Fourth Circus Artist
 
Háta
 Micha's second wife
Indian
 a circus artist
Jeník
 Micha's son by his first wife
Kecal
 a marriage broker
Krušina
 a peasant
Ludmila
 Krušina's wife
Mařenka
 their daughter
Ringmaster
 
Ringmaster's Wife
 
Second Circus Artist
 
Third Circus Artist
 
Tobias Mícha
 a prosperous peasant farmer
Vašek
 son of Micha and Háta
Circus Dancer
 

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