The Bartered Bride

0 of 5 stars

Smetana
The Bartered Bride [Comic Opera in Three Acts; Libretto by Karel Sabina; English translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey]

Krušina – Neal Davies
Ludmila – Yvonne Howard
Mařenka – Susan Gritton
Toby Mícha – Geoffrey Moses
Háta – Diana Montague
Vašek – Timothy Robinson
Jeník – Paul Charles Clarke
Kecal – Peter Rose
Ringmaster – Robin Leggate
Esmeralda – Yvette Bonner
Indian – Kit Hesketh-Harvey

The Royal Opera Chorus

Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Recorded in December 2004 in Blackheath Halls, London


Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: November 2005
CD No: CHANDOS
CHAN 3128(2) [2 CDs]
Duration: 2 hours 23 minutes

Sir Charles Mackerras has spent most of his lifetime conducting Czech music, so it is no surprise that he perfectly captures the lyrical flow of this most archetypal of Czech operas. Amazing that this is his first recording of “The Bartered Bride”, wherein he so wonderfully succeeds in balancing the opera’s varied characteristics.

“The Bartered Bride” has a nationalistic voice without ever losing a sense of bucolic light-heartedness. It gestures towards Mozart’s comic operas (the Pamina-like mistaken grief or the Figaro-like machinations of hero and marriage-broker) while combining Mozart’s humorous absurdity with everyday tragedy. After an uncertain initial reception, it is no surprise that “The Bartered Bride” has become by far the best-known and most popular of Smetana’s operas.

The cast is a strong one. Susan Gritton’s Mařenka is the pick of the main characters, effortlessly falling into tragic mode when she imagines her lover Jeník has ‘bartered’ her for ten thousand crowns. Jeník (Paul Charles Clarke) is appropriately eager and earnest, with that touch of callowness that allows him to perform his subterfuge without really considering his beloved’s feelings. Peter Rose’s rich tones give his pantomime-villain character a dimension of unusual solidity and seriousness. Among the smaller parts, Yvette Bonner’s pleasingly light voice is perfect for the circus artist Esmeralda; Timothy Robinson’s Vašek delightfully combines a laughable buffoonery with the genuine pathos of the put-upon.

Two small reservations: the listener never quite believes in the brutality of village life that shadows the comedy, which may be because of the enthusiasm shown by the performers or simply a weakness in the plot. There is also the ‘problem’ of having this opera sung in English, which loses both the colours of the Czech language and endangers the libretto with doggerel. Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s version is skilled in both expression and rhyme, but even so occasionally sounds as though penned by W. S. Gilbert. But perhaps it is churlish to protest when the opera’s original language is very much a minority one and its folk-music appeal unashamedly populist.

Mackerras is as noted for his orchestral as his opera conducting; under him the Philharmonia Orchestra plays with lightness and control; the overture and instrumental interludes, often extracted, are not the least pleasure in this set. The recording is, like the performance, fresh, lively and fizzy, with openness and space characteristic of Chandos. This recording marks the tenth anniversary of the collaboration between the Peter Moores Foundation and Chandos for the “Opera in English” series.

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