Notes and Editorial Reviews
The first thing to notice about this delightful 1959 performance is that it is in Czech. I make this point because, in the West, we frequently hear this opera only in German (of which there is still a fine 1962 recording on EMI Classics). Yet, Smetana’s lines are intimately tuned to the Czech language, which is clear as a bell here.
This may be the best comic opera between Rossini and Gilbert and Sullivan and why it is not more often performed I know not. An LP of this recording was my introduction to Smetana’s comic world, and I have only recently seen a number of productions, two of which moved the time to the early-Communist-grey period, and Smetana survived them all. I find, nonetheless, that I return to this performance
because it still reaches out to me, not in the exaggerated way we sometimes get in buffo opera, where singers overact to make sure we get the point, but with some subtlety and nuance, and I think that has to do with the singers’ use of the language, whose every inflection they own. Above all, this is a performance with a great deal of joy.
In a sense, the star here is Chalabala, perhaps the most experienced pit conductor of his day in then-Czechoslovakia. He keeps things moving without giving the impression that he thinks this is a new-style Baroque opera. The balance between singers and orchestra is reasonable and the sound is clean.
Not all the singers are flawless, of course, but none is false to his or her character. Eduard Haken was the grand bass of the Prague stage, often associated with the operas of Dvo?ák and Janá?ek, and if he is occasionally pressed by some of Kecal’s high notes, he knows everything about this wheeler-dealer. Ivo Žídek, eventually also widely known for his work in Janá?ek, is a most ardent and clever suitor to the put-upon but spirited Ma?enka of Drahomira Tikalova, and Old?ich Ková?’s Vašek stutters appealingly without sounding like a fool. Though a studio recording, this is very much a performance honed in the theater.
A detail I have not been able to resolve is the question of the orchestra. On the issue reviewed here, the orchestra is given as the Czech Philharmonic. On the Supraphon re-release (Supraphon 40), the orchestra is called the Prague National Theatre Orchestra, which I believe to have been the orchestra actually used, as the Czech Philharmonic separated from the opera in 1901. Whichever it was, it plays excellently for Chalabala.
For alternatives, James H. North (26:3) recommended Karel An?erl’s 1947 recording, now on Opera d’Oro, and (30:4) Zden?k Košler’s 1981 reading on Supraphon, the latter mostly for the singing of Peter Dvorský and Gabriela Be?a?ková (though he didn’t like the DVD version). I have not heard these performances.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Works on This Recording
Bartered Bride, B 143/T 93 by Bedrich Smetana
Rudolf Vonásek (Tenor),
Jaroslav Horacek (Bass),
Jaroslava Dobra (Soprano),
Drahomira Tikalova (Soprano),
Vaclav Bednar (Baritone),
Stepanka Stepanova (Alto),
Oldrich Kovar (Tenor),
Ivo Zidek (Tenor),
Eduard Haken (Bass),
Jarmila Pechová (Soprano),
Jiri Joran (Bass)
Prague National Theatre Orchestra,
Prague National Theatre Chorus
Written: 1863/1870; Czech Republic
Date of Recording: 1959
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