The Royal Opera has made the most that can be made of The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana, even going so far as to hire Charles Mackerras to conduct it. It was a treat.
Bride is hard to place in the various currents of popular opera. I suppose you could call it a Spieloper, a semi-serious real opera of the type that succeeded the Singspiel. They are entirely sung with songs rather than arias for the soloists. Except Bride is Czech, here sung in English with the supertitles still showing. This means you can mumble your words. Some did. Some didn’t.
I see in Opera Now that there is a recording of this opera with Sir Charles conducting in the opera in English series.
While I was watching it, though, I thought it was most like Oklahoma of any show I have seen. All are family and friends, people you know.
The production took place in a single set, erected in the first act as a kind of communal barn raising. All are in their working clothes and project real happiness. I especially liked the presence of children on the stage. How can it really be a community without children?
The plot of Bride is devious. Mashenka’s parents have arranged through a marriage broker for her to marry Vasek, the son of Toby Micha, while she is in love with Jenik and has promised to marry only him. And besides, Vasek is an idiot.
There is an extended scene where the marriage broker persuades Jenik to give up Machenka in exchange for 10,000 crowns so she can marry “Toby Micha’s son.” I guess I can give away the ending—boy friend is also “Toby Micha’s son” and they all live happily ever after.
There is a not too shabby circus in the third act—maybe not on a par with Cirque de Soliel but fun, with a stilt walker who juggles fire sticks, a contortionist and Esmeralda, a tight rope walker. Vasek runs off with her. I don’t know if a soprano tight rope walker is ever anyone’s break-through role, but you never know.
This is as much as The Bartered Bride can ever be. I didn’t see any children in the audience.
[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]