SMETANA The Bartered Bride • Zden?k Košler, cond; Richard Novák (Kecal); Peter Dvorský (Jeník); Gabriela Be?a?ková (Ma?enka); Miroslav Kopp (Vašek); Jind?ich Jindrák (Krušina); Marie Veselá (Ludmila);Read more Jaroslav Horá?ek (Mícha); Marie Mrázová (Háta); Alfréd Hampel (Ringmaster); Jana Jonášová (Esmeralda); Czech PO; Prague PCh • SUPRAPHON 7011 (DVD: 137:56)
This is a 1981 production for Czech Television, but its provenance is far from clear. Credits to both Supraphon CDs and this DVD state that The Bartered Bride was recorded with this cast in December 1980 and January 1981 at the Rudolfinum. Some singers are obviously lip-synching, but the two principals get such a perfect match that they might be actually singing in the TV studio. Furthermore, the overture here is played in Smetana Hall, Prague’s other main concert venue. I’ll leave it at that and assume that the two recordings are otherwise identical. Although this performance is very well sung, there is not much spirit to it; a 1947 recording under An?erl, with ?ervinková, Blachut, and Kalas (Opera d’Oro 1354, Fanfare 26:3) is far livelier.
The TV production is extremely conservative. Its worst feature is that singers too often appear in full-screen facial close-ups; fortunately, the leads are young (34 and 29) and attractive. But the direction is static; much of the time, singers simply stand around with arms hanging down when not actually singing. One gets the impression that they act well during their familiar arias and duets but are uncomfortable (perhaps even undirected) at other times. Another Bartered Bride I have seen is a 1978 Metropolitan Opera production (live and on TV) under Levine, with Stratas, Gedda, Talvela, and Vickers—luxury casting!—as Vašek. Although sung in English, it shimmers with excitement: the music sparkles with high spirits and wit, the choreography is imaginative and lovely, the direction is alive to every nuance. In addition, the buzz in the audience can be felt even in an amateur dubbing of a poorly lit broadcast. The choreography in Prague, based on the simplest folk dancing, is pretty but dull. In addition, one overused directorial touch becomes annoying: at almost every pause in a vocal number, a few pretty girls or children dance across the screen.
Be?a?ková is in glorious voice, and her acting is up to snuff; the aria and duet “I know of a maiden fair,” where she tries to dissuade Vašek from marrying Ma?enka, is charming. Kopp lacks Vickers’s comedic talent as well as his voice, but he is nevertheless just right for the role of the shy, stuttering boy. Dvorský is superb, the best Jeník since Wunderlich’s EMI recording (in German), although his body language is awkward during Ma?enka’s opening aria. Novák does not have Kecal’s bottom notes, as do Talvela at the Met and Frick on EMI. Nor is Novák’s comic patter convincing; it is too slow and just not funny. The two sets of parents seem dull and awkward during their few spoken and sung interjections, but they (Jind?ich Jindrák, Marie Veselá, Jaroslav Horá?ek, and Marie Mrázová) are more than mere comprimarios, and when they join Kecal in “Make up your mind, Ma?enka” that quintet is just gorgeous. The circus crew is fine and lively, their demonstration the best part of the choreography: a mix of ballet and acrobatics to counter all the folk dancing. But the Met’s more imaginative direction tells: in Prague, after the strong man hoists the barbell, a little girl rolls it off; at the Met, she carries it off. Everything goes better by act III (the performance is continuous), and the vocal quality and dramatic sincerity of the principals win one over in the end.
The sets are simple but colorful; if you have the Supraphon CDs, its photos come from this production: that’s Novák, Be?a?ková, and Dvorský from left to right on the cover. The video quality is so-so by today’s digital standards, with a few out-of-focus moments at the beginning of the opera, but it should not interfere with your enjoyment. Subtitles are offered in Czech, English, German, and French. I don’t hear much difference between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo on offer. This NTSC DVD is coded for all regions, with a picture ratio of 4:3.
For all of the Met production’s sparkle, Be?a?ková and Dvorský out-sing Stratas and Gedda and are also more believable in their roles. While there are a few disappointing elements here, this is the only available DVD of this most lyrical of the great comic operas, and Supraphon’s sincere, straightforward performance satisfies.
Bartered Bride, B 143/T 93by Bedrich Smetana Performer:
Marie Mrázová (Alto),
Jindrich Jindrák (Baritone),
Richard Novák (Bass),
Gabriela Benacková (Soprano),
Miroslav Kopp (Tenor),
Peter Dvorsky (Tenor),
Marie Vesela (Soprano),
Jaroslav Horacek (Bass),
Jana Jonásová (Soprano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1863/1870; Czech Republic
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
GREAT PERFORMANCEOctober 22, 2015By Denton Moers (Houston, TX)See All My Reviews"IM absolutely delighted with this opera. it is like turning back the clock to the nineteenth century Eastern Europe. the music of Smetana is excellent. I would highly recommend this dvd to anyone.-----Denton Moers"Report Abuse