Opera North's Bartered Bride
By Helen Gavaghan
29th October, 2014. Leeds.
Spiky, comic, human and full of verve: that was Opera North's performance earlier this evening of Smetana's opera, The Bartered Bride. The audience, including children, loved it.
Staging and direction transposed the story from mid nineteenth century to Czechoslovakia on 9th May, 1972. In doing so nothing was lost. This was still a story in which people without a vote or political power played out their story amid their culture and traditions.
The circus came to town, distracting and entertaining. Vasek, intended husband of Marenka, in a deal intended to save her father's fortunes, met Esmeralda, and the two fell in love. This was lucky for Marenka, who was in love with Jenik, who, unbenownst to all but Jenik, was the elder brother of Marenka's unwanted intended Vasek. Marenka pretended to be somebody else, and persuaded Vasek he really would not like Marenka if he were to meet her. This was a saucy portion of Marenka's performance, and very funny. In the end Jenik and Vasek's father recognised Jenik, who had run away to join the Army, and to escape his father's second wife, mother of Vasek. OK, there was a touch of the pantomine about all this, but it was welcome leaven from the backdrop of a father needing his daughter to make a "good" marriage in order to save his fortune. These were the days before enlightened insolvency laws.
The opera's opening scene was not my personal favourite, though it did feature seriously competent choral singing from the Opera North chorus, and I love choral singing. This choral singing had a message, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" - transposed, of course, into Czech culture.
I had to wait until just before the interval before I heard a male aria which made me - a lover of Puccini -- feel at home. I wish I were a music expert so that the sentence, "Brenden Gunnell sang the aria superbly" would carry gravitas. Sadly I am not a music expert.
Given that before this evening's performance the only Smetana work I was familiar with was Ma Vlast I did manage to follow his music. The company sang in English and the words were also projected discretely, making the whole opera easy to follow for someone such as myself who has not seen this particular opera before.
I am looking forward to reading the company's programme for their performance. It looks to be packed with useful mini essays of value for serious students.
Potential conflict of interest
Opera North gave me a complementary ticket because I had participated in a business event at which business feedback was sought from invitees. The tickets were the Opera's courtesy thank you. I can also report that I attended alone, and felt completely safe walking through the crowd, across Leeds at 10 pm from the theatre to the railway station, through the station, and home to Mytholmroyd.
Written 29th October, and posted 1.10 am GMT 30th October, 2014
Copy read for minor typos and corrected and links checked 8.30 on 30th October, 2014.
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