Garsington Opera 2019 – Smetana’s The Bartered Bride – Natalya Romaniw, Brenden Gunnell, Joshua Bloom, Heather Shipp; directed by Paul Curran; Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Jac van Steen

Prodaná nevĕsta – Comic opera in three Acts to a libretto by Karel Sabina [sung in Czech, with English surtitles]

Jenik – Brenden Gunnell
Mařenka – Natalya Romaniw
Kecal – Joshua Bloom
Krušina – Peter Savidge
Ludmila – Heather Shipp
Vašek – Stuart Jackson
Circus Master – Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts
Esmerelda – Lara Marie Walker
India – Simon Dyer
Háta – Anne-Marie Owens
Tobiás Micha – Paul Whelan

Garsington Opera Chorus

Philharmonia Orchestra
Jac van Steen

Paul Curran – Director
Kevin Knight – Designer
Howard Hudson – Lighting
Darren Royston – Choreographer

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 31 May, 2019
Venue: Opera Pavilion, Wormsley Park, Buckinghamshire, England

Garsington Opera 2019 – Smetana’s The Bartered BridePhotograph: Clive BardaSmetana’s Prodaná nevĕsta, The Bartered Bride, a joyous comic opera with a serious emotional undercurrent, bubbles over with fantastic musical invention and opportunities for dance and chorus action. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this production is the sheer verve and vitality that the members of the Garsington Opera Chorus and the troupe of circus performers bring to Darren Royston’s great choreography – whether the visual routines during the Overture, the maypole sequence to the Polka at the end of the first Act, the Furiant found in the Second, and the effervescent ‘Dance of the Comedians’ in the Third.

With the settings taking the action to a church hall and kitchen, and to the local pub, around the time of the late-1950s, and with striking costuming to match, the sense of a close community is vividly presented. You felt you knew these people by the end of the evening. This liveliness is matched by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Jac van Steen bringing out all the characterisation and rhythmic energy of the score, and also a section of Má vlast whilst the clever set-change from hall to tavern unfolded before our eyes.

Garsington Opera 2019 – Smetana’s The Bartered BridePhotograph: Clive BardaPaul Curran’s direction is sensitively handled. At the centre of the cast is Natalya Romaniw’s touching Mařenka, anxious and fiery in the early stages as her happiness seems threatened by the plans and financial trials of her parents, and yet bringing great pathos to her two great arias. She’s also good at depicting the obstinate lady in the confrontational duet with Brenden Gunnell’s personable if occasionally headstrong Jenik – rather more sympathetic, complex and credible a portrayal than is often the case.

Joshua Bloom’s shady Kecal is also a fine creation, full of misplaced self-confidence but also humour – not least when trying to paint Vašek attributes to Mařenka’s parents. And Vašek is given an appealing portrayal by Stuart Jackson – less of the simpleton, more the product of and upbringing by his stern mother; Anne-Marie Owens brings that spiteful woman to dramatic life within seconds of appearing. Heather Shipp is an emotionally sensitive Ludmila, nicely partnered by Peter Savidge’s rather humble Krušina, and Paul Whelan is the suitable brow-beaten Tobiás. You realise how important the parental roles are from these seasoned performers.

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