The Bartered Bride - Bedrich Smetana - Charles Mackerras - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

On 12 May 2001 I was at ROH to see Bedrich Smetana's The Bartered Bride conducted at high speed by Charles Mackerras, the doyen of Czech music which was first performed in Prague on 05 May 1866. The libretto was originally by Karel Sabina but has been given a new English translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey better known as one half of the cabaret duo Kit and the Widow. The opera's innocent plot, naive plot and sparkling music - a sort of Czech Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - has earned it a place in the repertoire of all the prestigious opera-houses and its characteristic Czech dances and tunes have made it a national festival opera in its own country.

There are light-hearted scenes of the village fete celebrating May Day, a circus troupe including many characters such as Esmeralda (the tightrope walker), a "red Indian" and a "dancing bear" who will perform with Esmeralda. The story is of Jenik's love for Marenka whose parents want her to marry the stupid, stammering Vasek - because he is the son of the wealthy Micha. Jenik agrees with the marriage-broker Kecal to give up Marenka in return for a sum of money on condition that Marenka marries Micha's son. As Jenik himself turns out to be the son of Micha by an early marriage he gets the best of the bargain: a case of all's well that ends well. Marenka is played by Susan Griffon; Jenik by Paul Charles Clarke; Kecal (the village marriage-broker) by Jeremy White; Krusina - a farmer by Alan Opie; Vasek by Timothy Robinson and (in a delightful cameo) the Ringmaster by Robin Legate.

In Act II the men of the village celebrate the pleasures of drink which grows into a lively dance (the 'furiant' - a lively Czech syncopated dance found in many of Bedrich Smetana and Dvorak's works.

In Act III the "dancing bear" disappears. Amid cries from the villagers that "a bear is on the loose" it soon reappears and reveals itself as Vasek who declares he has now joined the circus. The opera ended with loud excited cheers.


Verinha Ottoni.


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