The Bartered Bride
is a comic opera
Comic opera denotes a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending.Forms of comic opera first developed in late 17th-century Italy. By the 1730s, a new operatic genre, opera buffa, emerged as an alternative to opera seria...
in three acts by the Czech composer Bedřich Smetana
Bedřich Smetana was a Czech composer who pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country's aspirations to independent statehood. He is thus widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music...
, to a libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...
by Karel Sabina
Karel Sabina , was a Czech writer and journalist.- Life :...
. The opera is considered to have made a major contribution towards the development of Czech music. It was composed during the period 1863–66, and first performed at the Provisional Theatre
The Prague Provisional Theatre was erected in 1862 as a temporary home for Czech drama and opera until a permanent National Theatre could be built. It opened on 18 November 1862 and functioned for 20 years, during which time over 5,000 performances were presented. Between 1866 and 1876 the theatre...
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...
, on 30 May 1866 in a two-act format with spoken dialogue. Set in a country village and with realistic characters, it tells the story of how, after a late surprise revelation, true love prevails over the combined efforts of ambitious parents and a scheming marriage broker. The opera was not immediately successful, and was revised and extended in the following four years. In its final version, premiered in 1870, it gained rapid popularity and eventually became a worldwide success.
Czech national opera until this time had been represented only by a number of minor, rarely performed works. This opera, Smetana's second, was part of his quest to create a truly Czech operatic genre. Smetana's musical treatment makes considerable use of traditional Bohemian dance forms such as the polka
The polka is a Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia...
A Furiant is a rapid and fiery Bohemian dance in 2/4 and 3/4 time, with frequently shifting accents.The stylised form of the dance was often used by Czech composers such as Antonin Dvořák in the eighth dance from his Slavonic Dances and in his 6th Symphony, and by Bedřich Smetana in The Bartered...
, although he largely avoids the direct quotation of folksong. He nevertheless created music which was accurately folk-like, and is considered by Czechs to be quintessentially Czech in spirit. The overture, often played as a concert piece independently from the opera, was, unusually, composed before almost any of the other music had been written.
After a performance at the Vienna Music and Theatre Exhibition of 1892, the opera achieved international recognition. It was performed in Chicago in 1893, London in 1895 and reached New York in 1909, subsequently becoming the first, and for many years the only, Czech opera in the general repertory. Many of these early international performances were in German, under the title Die verkaufte Braut, and the German language version continues to be played and recorded. A German film of the opera was made in 1932 by Max Ophüls
Maximillian Oppenheimer — known as Max Ophüls — was an influential German-born film director who worked in Germany , France , the United States , and France again...
Until the middle 1850s Bedřich Smetana was known in Prague principally as a teacher, pianist and composer of salon pieces. His failure to achieve wider recognition in the Bohemian capital led him to depart in 1856 for Sweden, where he spent the next five years. During this period he extended his compositional range to large-scale orchestral works in the descriptive style championed by Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...
and Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...
. Liszt was Smetana's long-time mentor; he had accepted a dedication of the latter's Opus 1: Six Characteristic Pieces for Piano in 1848, and had encouraged the younger composer's career since then. In September 1857 Smetana visited Liszt in Weimar
Weimar is a city in Germany famous for its cultural heritage. It is located in the federal state of Thuringia , north of the Thüringer Wald, east of Erfurt, and southwest of Halle and Leipzig. Its current population is approximately 65,000. The oldest record of the city dates from the year 899...
, where he met Peter Cornelius
Carl August Peter Cornelius was a German composer, writer about music, poet and translator. He was born and died in Mainz where his grave in the Hauptfriedhof survives....
, a follower of Liszt's who was working on a comic opera, Der Barbier von Bagdad
Der Barbier von Bagdad is a comic opera in two acts by Peter Cornelius to a German libretto by the composer, based on The Tale of the Tailor and The Barber’s Stories of his Six Brothers in A Thousand and One Nights...
. Reportedly, their discussions centred on the need to create a modern style of comic opera, as a counterbalance to Wagner's new form of music drama
A Gesamtkunstwerk is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so...
. A comment was made by the Viennese conductor Johann von Herbeck
Johann Ritter von Herbeck was an Austrian musician, born in Vienna, best known for leading the premiere of Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony....
to the effect that Czechs were incapable of making music of their own, a remark which Smetana took to heart: "I swore there and then that no other than I should beget a native Czech music."
Smetana did not act immediately on this aspiration. The announcement that a Provisional Theatre was to be opened in Prague, as a home for Czech opera and drama pending the building of a permanent National Theatre, influenced his decision to return permanently to his homeland in 1861. He was then spurred to creative action by the announcement of a prize competition, sponsored by the Czech patriot Jan von Harrach, to provide suitable operas for the Provisional Theatre. By 1863 he had written The Brandenburgers in Bohemia to a libretto by the Czech nationalist poet Karel Sabina
Karel Sabina , was a Czech writer and journalist.- Life :...
, whom Smetana had met briefly in 1848. The Brandenburgers, which was awarded the opera prize, was a serious historical drama, but even before its completion Smetana was noting down themes for use in a future comic opera. By this time he had heard the music of Cornelius's Der Barbier, and was ready to try his own hand at the comic genre.
For his libretto, Smetana again approached Sabina, who by 5 July 1863 had produced an untitled one-act sketch in German. Over the following months Sabina was encouraged to develop this into a full-length text, and to provide a Czech translation. According to Smetana's biographer Brian Large
Brian Large is a television director specializing in opera and classical music broadcasts.-Studies:...
, this process was prolonged and untidy; the manuscript shows amendments and additions in Smetana's own hand, and some pages apparently written by Smetana's wife Bettina (who may have been receiving dictation). By the end of 1863 a two-act version, with around 20 musical numbers separated by spoken dialogue, had been assembled. Smetana's diary indicates that he, rather than Sabina, chose the work's title because "the poet did not know what to call it." The translation "Sold Bride" is strictly accurate, but the more euphonious "Bartered Bride" has been adopted throughout the English-speaking world. Sabina evidently did not fully appreciate Smetana's intention to write a full-length opera, later commenting: "If I had suspected what Smetana would make of my operetta, I should have taken more pains and written him a better and more solid libretto."
Czech music specialist John Tyrrell
John Tyrrell was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in 1942. He studied at the universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Brno. In 2000 he was appointed Research Professor at Cardiff University....
has observed that, despite the casual way in which The Bartered Bride's libretto was put together, it has an intrinsic "Czechness", being one of the few in the Czech language written in trochee
A trochee or choree, choreus, is a metrical foot used in formal poetry consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one...
s (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one) which matches the natural first-syllabus emphasis in the Czech language.
As early as October 1862, well before the arrival of any libretto or plot sketch, Smetana had noted down 16 bars which later became the theme of The Bartered Bride's opening chorus. In May 1863 he sketched eight bars which he eventually used in the love duet "Faithful love can't be marred", and later that summer, while still awaiting Sabina's revised libretto, he wrote the theme of the comic number "We'll make a pretty little thing". He also produced a piano version of the entire overture, which was performed in a public concert on 18 November. In this, he departed from his normal practice of leaving the overture until last.
The opera continued to be composed in a piecemeal fashion, as Sabina's libretto gradually took shape. Progress was slow, and was interrupted by other work. Smetana had become Chorus Master of the Hlahol Choral Society in 1862, and spent much time rehearsing and performing with the Society. He was deeply involved in the 1864 Shakespeare Festival in Prague, conducting Berlioz's Romeo et Juliette and composing a festival march. That same year he became music correspondent of the Czech language newspaper Národní listy. Smetana's diary for December 1864 records that he was still working on the music for The Bartered Bride; the piano score was completed by October 1865. It was then put aside so that the composer could concentrate on his third opera Dalibor. Smetana evidently did not begin the orchestral scoring of The Bartered Bride until, following the successful performance of The Brandenburgers in January 1866, the management of the Provisional Theatre decided to stage the new opera that summer. The scoring was completed rapidly, between 20 February and 16 March.
Smetana began revising The Bartered Bride as soon as its first performances were complete. For its first revival, in October 1866, the only significant musical alteration was the addition of a gypsy dance near the start of Act II. For this, Smetana used the music of a dance from The Brandenburgers of Bohemia. When The Bartered Bride returned to the Provisional Theatre in January 1869, this dance was removed, and replaced with a polka. A new scene, with a drinking song for the chorus, was added to Act I, and Mařenka's Act II aria "Oh what grief!" was extended.
So far, changes to the original had been of a minor nature; when the opera reappeared in June 1869, however, it had been entirely restructured. Although the musical numbers were still linked by dialogue, the first act had been divided in two, to create a three-act opera. Various numbers, including the drinking song and the new polka, were repositioned, and the polka was now followed by a furiant. A "March of the Comedians" was added, to introduce the strolling players in what was now Act III. A short duet for Esmeralda and the Principal Comedian was dropped. Just over a year later, The Bartered Bride reached its final form, when all the dialogue was replaced by recitative
Recitative , also known by its Italian name "recitativo" , is a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech...
. Smetana's own opinion of the finished work, given much later, was largely dismissive: he described it as "a toy ... composing it was mere child's play". It was written, he said "to spite those who accused me of being Wagnerian and incapable of doing anything in a lighter vein."
||Premiere Cast, 30 May 1866
Conductor: Bedřich Smetana
|Krušina, a peasant
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...
|Ludmila, his wife
A soprano is a voice type with a vocal range from approximately middle C to "high A" in choral music, or to "soprano C" or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody...
|Mařenka, their daughter
||Eleonora von Ehrenberg
|Mícha, a landowner
A bass is a type of male singing voice and possesses the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C...
|Háta, his wife
A mezzo-soprano is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above...
|Vašek, their son
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...
|Jeník, Mícha's son by a former marriage
|Kecal, a marriage broker
|Principál komediantů, Ringmaster
|Indián, an Indian comedian
|Esmeralda, dancer and comedienne
A crowd of villagers are celebrating at the church fair ("Let's rejoice and be merry"). Among them are Mařenka and Jeník. Mařenka is unhappy because her parents want her to marry someone she has never met. They will try to force her into this, she says. Her desires are for Jeník even though, as she explains in her aria "If I should ever learn", she knows nothing of his background. The couple then declare their feelings for each other in a passionate love duet ("Faithful love can't be marred").
As the pair leave separately, Mařenka's parents, Ludmila and Krušina, enter with the marriage broker Kecal. After some discussion, Kecal announces that he has found a groom for Mařenka – Vašek, younger son of Tobiáš Mícha, a wealthy landowner; the older son, he explains, is a worthless good-for-nothing. Kecal extols the virtues of Vašek ("He's a nice boy, well brought up"), as Mařenka re-enters. In the subsequent quartet she responds by saying that she already has a chosen lover. Send him packing, orders Kecal. The four argue, but little is resolved. Kecal decides he must convince Jeník to give up Mařenka, as the villagers return, singing and dancing a festive polka.
The men of the village join in a rousing drinking song ("To beer!"), while Jeník and Kecal argue the merits, respectively, of love and money over beer. The women enter, and the whole group joins in dancing a furiant. Away from the jollity the nervous Vašek muses over his forthcoming marriage in a stuttering song ("My-my-my mother said to me"). Mařenka appears, and guesses immediately who he is, but does not reveal her own identity. Pretending to be someone else, she paints a picture of "Mařenka" as a treacherous deceiver. Vašek is easily fooled, and when Mařenka, in her false guise, pretends to woo him ("I know of a maiden fair"), he falls for her charms and swears to give Mařenka up.
Meanwhile, Kecal is attempting to buy Jeník off, and after some verbal fencing makes a straight cash offer: a hundred florins if Jeník will renounce Mařenka. Not enough, is the reply. When Kecal increases the offer to 300 florins, Jeník pretends to accept, but imposes a condition – no one but Mícha's son will be allowed to wed Mařenka. Kecal agrees, and rushes off to prepare the contract. Alone, Jeník ponders the deal he has apparently made to barter his beloved ("When you discover whom you've bought"), wondering how anyone could believe that he would really do this, and finally expressing his love for Mařenka.
Kecal summons the villagers to witness the contract he has made ("Come inside and listen to me"). He reads the terms: Mařenka is to marry no one but Mícha's son. Krušina and the crowd marvel at Jeník's apparent self-denial, but the mood changes when they learn that he has been paid off. The Act ends with Jenik being denounced by Krušina and the rest of the assembly as a rascal.
Vašek expresses his confusions in a short, sad song ("I can't get it out of my head"), but is interrupted by the arrival of a travelling circus. The Ringmaster introduces the star attractions: Esmeralda, the Spanish dancer, a "real Indian" sword swallower, and a dancing bear. A rapid folk-dance, the skočná
Skočná is a rapid Slavic folk-dance, normally in 2/4 metre. Czech composers Antonín Dvořák and Bedrich Smetana used this dance, the latter in the third act of The Bartered Bride where it is danced by a circus troup and is often known as the Dance of the Comedians. Dvorak's 5th, 7th and 11th...
, follows. Vašek is entranced by Esmeralda, but his timid advances are interrupted when the "Indian" rushes in, announcing that the "bear" has collapsed in a drunken stupor. A replacement is required. Vašek is soon persuaded to take the job, egged on by Esmeralda's flattering words ("We'll make a pretty thing out of you").
The circus folk leave. Vasek's parents – Mícha and Háta – arrive, with Kecal. Vašek tells them that he no longer wants to marry Mařenka, having learned her true nature from a beautiful, strange girl. They are horrified ("He does not want her – what has happened?"). Vašek runs off, and moments later Mařenka arrives with her parents. She has just learned of Jeník's deal with Kecal, and a lively ensemble ("No, no, I don't believe it") ensues. Matters are further complicated when Vašek returns, recognises Mařenka as his "strange girl", and says that he will happily marry her. In the sextet which follows ("Make your mind up, Mařenka"), Mařenka is urged to think things over. They all depart, leaving her alone.
In her aria ("Oh what grief"), Mařenka sings of her betrayal. When Jeník appears, she rebuffs him angrily, and declares that she will marry Vašek. Kecal arrives, and is amused by Jeník's attempts to pacify Mařenka, who orders her former lover to go. The villagers then enter, with both sets of parents, wanting to know Mařenka's decision ("What have you decided, Mařenka?"). As she confirms that she will marry Vašek, Jeník returns, and to great consternation addresses Mícha as "father". In a surprise identity revelation it emerges that Jeník is Mícha's elder son, by a former marriage – the "worthless good-for-nothing" earlier dismissed by Kecal – who had in fact been driven away by his jealous stepmother, Háta. As Mícha's son he is, by the terms of the contract, entitled to marry Mařenka; when this becomes clear, Mařenka understands his actions and embraces him. Offstage shouting interrupts the proceedings; it seems that a bear has escaped from the circus and is heading for the village. This creature appears, but is soon revealed to be Vašek in the bear's costume ("Don't be afraid!"). His antics convince his parents that he is unready for marriage, and he is marched away. Mícha then blesses the marriage between Mařenka and Jeník, and all ends in a celebratory chorus.
The premiere of The Bartered Bride took place at the Provisional Theatre on 30 May 1866. Smetana conducted; the stage designs were by Josef Macourek and Josef Jiři Kolár produced the opera. The role of Mařenka was sung by the theatre's principal soprano, Eleonora von Ehrenberg – who had refused to appear in The Brandenburgers because she thought her proffered role was beneath her. The parts of Krušina, Jeník and Kecal were all taken by leading members of the Brandenburgers cast. A celebrated actor, Jindřich Mošna, was engaged to play the Ringmaster, a role which involves little singing skill.
The choice of date proved unfortunate for several reasons. It clashed with a public holiday, and many people had left the city for the country. It was an intensely hot day, which further reduced the number of people prepared to suffer the discomfort of a stuffy theatre. Worse, the threat of an imminent war between Prussia and Austria caused unrest and anxiety in Prague, which dampened public enthusiasm for light romantic comedy. Thus on its opening night the opera, in its two-act version with spoken dialogue, was poorly attended and indifferently received. Receipts failed to cover costs, and the theatre director was forced to pay Smetana's fee from his own pocket.
Smetana's friend Josef Srb-Debrnov, who was unable to attend the performance himself, canvassed opinion from members of the audience as they emerged. "One praised it, another shook his head, and one well-known musician ... said to me: 'That's no comic opera; it won't do. The opening chorus is fine but I don't care for the rest.'" Josef Krejčí, a member of the panel that had judged Harrach's opera competition, called the work a failure "that would never hold its own."
Press comment was less critical; nevertheless, after one more performance the opera was withdrawn. Shortly afterwards the Provisional Theatre temporarily closed its doors, as the threat of war drew closer to Prague.
In the years after its first performance the dearth of available Czech operas meant that The Bartered Bride reappeared in the Provisional Theatre's repertory at regular intervals. Smetana revived it in October 1866, as part of his first season as the theatre's principal conductor. He brought it back again in January 1869 after revision, and again in the summer of that year, by which time it had had been restructured into three acts. Its metamorphosis was complete by September 1870, when Smetana presented the opera in its definitive version, with all spoken dialogue replaced by recitative.
In February 1869 Smetana had the text translated into French, and sent the libretto and score to the Paris Opera
The Paris Opera is the primary opera company of Paris, France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique...
with a business proposal for dividing the profits. The management of the Paris Opera did not respond. The opera was first performed outside its native land on 11 January 1871, when Eduard Nápravník
Eduard Francevič Nápravník was a Czech conductor and composer, who settled in Russia and is best known for his leading role in Russian musical life as the principal conductor of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg for many decades...
, conductor of the Russian Imperial Opera, gave a performance at the Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. The...
in St Petersburg. The work attracted mediocre notices from the critics, one of whom compared the work unfavourably to the Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach was a Prussian-born French composer, cellist and impresario. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr....
genre. Smetana was hurt by this remark, which he felt downgraded his opera to operetta
Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre.-Origins:...
status, and was convinced that press hostility had been generated by a former adversary, the Russian composer Mily Balakirev
Mily Alexeyevich Balakirev ,Russia was still using old style dates in the 19th century, and information sources used in the article sometimes report dates as old style rather than new style. Dates in the article are taken verbatim from the source and therefore are in the same style as the source...
. The pair had clashed some years earlier, over the Provisional Theatre's stagings of Glinka's A Life for the Tsar
A Life for the Tsar , as it is known in English, although its original name was Ivan Susanin is a "patriotic-heroic tragic opera" in four acts with an epilogue by Mikhail Glinka. The original Russian libretto, based on historical events, was written by Nestor Kukolnik, Georgy Fyodorovich Rozen,...
and Ruslan and Lyudmila. Smetana believed that Balakirev had used the Russian premiere of The Bartered Bride as a means of exacting revenge.
The Bartered Bride was not performed abroad again until after Smetana's death in 1884. It was staged by the Prague National Theatre
The National Theatre in Prague is known as the Alma Mater of Czech opera, and as the national monument of Czech history and art.The National Theatre belongs to the most important Czech cultural institutions, with a rich artistic tradition which was created and maintained by the most distinguished...
company in Vienna, as part of the Vienna Music and Theatre Exhibition of 1892, where its favourable reception was the beginning of its worldwide popularity among opera audiences. Since the Czech language was not widely spoken, international performances tended to be in German. The United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
premiere took place at the Haymarket Theatre, Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...
, on 20 August 1893. The opera was introduced to Germany in 1894 by Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...
, then serving as Director of the Hamburg State Opera
The Hamburg State Opera is one of the leading opera companies in Germany.Opera in Hamburg dates back to 2 January 1678 when the "Opern-Theatrum" was inaugurated with a performance of a biblical Singspiel by Johann Theile...
; a year later a German company brought a production to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is a West End theatre in Covent Garden, in the City of Westminster, a borough of London. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building standing today is the most recent in a line of four theatres at the same location dating back to 1663,...
in London. In 1897, after his appointment as Director of the Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera is an opera house – and opera company – with a history dating back to the mid-19th century. It is located in the centre of Vienna, Austria. It was originally called the Vienna Court Opera . In 1920, with the replacement of the Habsburg Monarchy by the First Austrian...
, Mahler brought The Bartered Bride into the company's repertory, and conducted regular performances of the work between 1899 and 1907. Mahler's enthusiasm for the work was such that he had incorporated a quote from the overture into the final movement of his First Symphony (1888). When he became Director of the Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera is an opera company, located in New York City. Originally founded in 1880, the company gave its first performance on October 22, 1883. The company is operated by the non-profit Metropolitan Opera Association, with Peter Gelb as general manager...
in New York in 1907 he added the opera to its repertory. The New York premiere, again in German, took place on 19 February 1909, and was warmly received. The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...
commented on the excellence of the staging and musical characterisations, and paid particular tribute to "Mr. Mahler", whose master hand was in evidence throughout. Mahler chose to play the overture between Acts I and II, so that latecomers might hear it.
The opera was performed more than one hundred times during Smetana's lifetime (the first Czech opera to reach this landmark), subsequently becoming a permanent feature of the National Theatre's repertory. On 9 May 1945 a special performance in memory of the victims of World War II was given at the theatre, four days after the last significant fighting in Europe. Since the war the theatre has staged productions virtually every year, in a tradition that has introduced a wide range of dramatic visions and ideas. In 2008 the young director Magdaléna Švecová became the first woman to direct The Bartered Bride at the National Theatre.
In the years since its American premiere The Bartered Bride has entered the repertory of all major opera companies, and is regularly revived worldwide. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to stage The Bartered Bride in France it was belatedly premiered at the Opéra-Comique
The Opéra-Comique is a Parisian opera company, which was founded around 1714 by some of the popular theatres of the Parisian fairs. In 1762 the company was merged with, and for a time took the name of its chief rival the Comédie-Italienne at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and was also called the...
in Paris in 1928, sung in French as La Fiancée vendue. It was not until 2008 that the opera was added to the repertoire of the Paris Opera, in a new production staged at the Palais Garnier
The Palais Garnier, , is an elegant 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera. It was originally called the Salle des Capucines because of its location on the Boulevard des Capucines in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, but soon became known as the Palais Garnier...
In the English-speaking world, recent productions of The Bartered Bride in London have included the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...
(ROH) presentation in 1998, staged at Sadler's Wells
Sadler's Wells Theatre is a performing arts venue located in Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell in the London Borough of Islington. The present day theatre is the sixth on the site since 1683. It consists of two performance spaces: a 1,500 seat main auditorium and the Lilian Baylis Studio, with extensive...
during the restoration of the ROH's headquarters at Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a district in London on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St. Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and the Royal Opera House, which is also known as...
. This production in English was directed by Francesca Zambello
Francesca Zambello is a leading American opera and theatre director. Zambello lived in Europe when she was a child, learning to speak French, Italian, German and Russian. Zambello is of Italian descent, the daughter of Jean , an actress and Charles C. Zambello, a former actor who became head of...
and conducted by Bernard Haitink
Bernard Johan Herman Haitink, CH, KBE is a Dutch conductor and violinist.- Early life :Haitink was born in Amsterdam, the son of Willem Haitink and Anna Haitink. He studied music at the conservatoire in Amsterdam...
; it was criticised both for its stark settings and for ruining the Act II entrance of Vašek. It was nevertheless twice revived by the ROH – in 2001 and 2006, under Charles Mackerras
Sir Alan Charles Maclaurin Mackerras, AC, CH, CBE was an Australian conductor. He was an authority on the operas of Janáček and Mozart, and the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan...
The most recent New York Metropolitan staging was in 1996 under James Levine
James Lawrence Levine is an American conductor and pianist. He is currently the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and former music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Levine's first performance conducting the Metropolitan Opera was on June 5, 1971, and as of May 2011 he has...
, a revival of John Dexter's 1978 production with stage designs by Josef Svoboda
Josef Svoboda was a Czech artist and scenic designer.Svoboda was born in Čáslav, Czechoslovakia . He began his training as an architect at the Central School of Housing in Prague. At the end of World War II he became interested in theatre and design...
. In 2005 The Bartered Bride returned to New York, at the Juilliard School theatre
The Juilliard School, located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, United States, is a performing arts conservatory which was established in 1905...
, in a new production by Eve Shapiro, conducted by Mark Stringer. In its May 2009 production at the Cutler Majestic Theatre
The Cutler Majestic Theatre at Emerson College, in Boston, Massachusetts, is a 1903 "Beaux Arts" style theater, designed by the architect John Galen Howard. Originally built for theatre, one of three theaters commissioned in Boston by Eben Dyer Jordan, son of the founder of Jordan Marsh, a...
, Opera Boston
Opera Boston is an opera company in Boston, Massachusetts. It specializes in innovative repertoire and rarely heard works, along with opera education and outreach programs designed to bring opera education to children, in schools and after-school programs throughout the Boston area.Its home base is...
transplanted the action to 1934, in the small Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...
n town of Spillville
Spillville is a city in Winneshiek County, Iowa, United States. The population was 386 at the 2000 census. It is located in Calmar Township, about west of Calmar and about southwest of Decorah, the county seat.-History:...
, once the home of a large Czech settlement.
Pieces from The Bartered Bride have also been incorporated into a new modern text by Václav Havel
Václav Havel is a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician. He was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic . He has written over twenty plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally...
, The Pig, or Václav Havel's Hunt for a Pig, which has been performed both in the Czech Republic and in New York City.
Although much of the music of The Bartered Bride is folk-like, the only actual use of authentic folk material is in the Act II furiant, with a few other occasional glimpses of basic Czech folk melodies. The "Czechness" of the music is further illustrated by the closeness to Czech dance rhythms of many individual numbers. Smetana's diary indicates that he was trying to give the music "a popular character, because the plot [...] is taken from village life and demands a national treatment." According to his biographer John Clapham, Smetana "certainly felt the pulse of the peasantry and knew how to express this in music, yet inevitably he added something of himself." Historian Harold Schonberg
Harold Charles Schonberg was an American music critic and journalist, most notably for The New York Times. He was the first music critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism...
argues that "the exoticisms of the Bohemian musical language were not in the Western musical consciousness until Smetana appeared." Smetana's musical language is, on the whole, one of happiness, expressing joy, dancing and festivals.
The mood of the entire opera is set by the overture, a concert piece in its own right, which Tyrrell describes as "a tour de force of the genre, wonderfully spirited & wonderfully crafted." Tyrrell draws attention to several of its striking features – its extended string fugato, climactic tutti
Tutti is an Italian word literally meaning all or together and is used as a musical term, for the whole orchestra as opposed to the soloist...
and prominent syncopation
In music, syncopation includes a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected in that they deviate from the strict succession of regularly spaced strong and weak but also powerful beats in a meter . These include a stress on a normally unstressed beat or a rest where one would normally be...
s. The overture does not contain many of the opera's later themes: biographer Brian Large compares it to Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...
's overtures to The Marriage of Figaro
Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata , K. 492, is an opera buffa composed in 1786 in four acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, based on a stage comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais, La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro .Although the play by...
and The Magic Flute
The Magic Flute is an opera in two acts composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a German libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder. The work is in the form of a Singspiel, a popular form that included both singing and spoken dialogue....
, in establishing a general mood. It is followed immediately by an extended orchestral prelude, for which Smetana adapted part of his 1849 piano work Wedding Scenes, adding special effects such as bagpipe imitations.
Schonberg has suggested that Bohemian composers express melancholy in a delicate, elegiac manner "without the crushing world-weariness and pessimism of the Russians." Thus, Mařenka's unhappiness is illustrated in the opening chorus by a brief switch to the minor key; likewise, the inherent pathos of Vašek's character is demonstrated by the dark minor key music of his Act III solo. Smetana also uses the technique of musical reminiscence, where particular themes are used as reminders of other parts of the action; the lilting clarinet theme of "faithful love" is an example, though it and other instances fall short of being full-blown Wagnerian
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...
leading themes or Leitmotif
A leitmotif , sometimes written leit-motif, is a musical term , referring to a recurring theme, associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical idea of idée fixe...
Large has commented that despite the colour and vigour of the music, there is little by way of characterisation, except in the cases of Kecal and, to a lesser extent, the loving pair and the unfortunate Vašek. The two sets of parents and the various circus folk are all conventional and "penny-plain" figures. In contrast, Kecal's character – that of a self-important, pig-headed, loquacious bungler – is instantly established by his rapid-patter music. Large suggests that the character may have been modelled on that of the boastful Baron in Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa was an Italian opera composer of the Neapolitan school...
's opera Il matrimonio segreto
Il matrimonio segreto is an opera in two acts, music by Domenico Cimarosa, on a libretto by Giovanni Bertati, based on the play The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick...
. Mařenka's temperament is shown in vocal flourishes which include coloratura
Coloratura has several meanings. The word is originally from Italian, literally meaning "coloring", and derives from the Latin word colorare . When used in English, the term specifically refers to elaborate melody, particularly in vocal music and especially in operatic singing of the 18th and...
passages and sustained high notes, while Jeník's good nature is reflected in the warmth of his music, generally in the G minor key. For Vašek's dual image, comic and pathetic, Smetana uses the major key to depict comedy, the minor for sorrow. Large suggests that Vašek's musical stammer, portrayed especially in his opening Act II song, was taken from Mozart's character Don Curzio in The Marriage of Figaro.
A silent film of The Bartered Bride was made in 1913 by the Czech film production studio Kinofa. It was produced by Max Urban and starred his wife Andulá Sedlacková. A German language version of the opera, Die verkaufte Braut
The Bartered Bride is a 1932 German film directed by Max Ophüls and based on the comic opera with the same name by Czech composer Bedřich Smetana.- Cast :*Jarmila Novotná as Marie*Willy Domgraf-Fassbaender as Hans...
, was filmed in 1932
-Events:*Cary Grant's film career begins*Katharine Hepburn's film career begins*Shirley Temple's film career begins*Disney released Flowers and Trees, the first cartoon in three-strip Technicolor film.*Santa, first sound film made in Mexico released....
by Max Ophüls
Maximillian Oppenheimer — known as Max Ophüls — was an influential German-born film director who worked in Germany , France , the United States , and France again...
(1902–57), the celebrated German director then at the beginning of his film-making career. The screenplay was drawn from Sabina's libretto by Curt Alexander, and Smetana's music was adapted by the German composer of film music, Theo Mackeben
thumb|Relief from Mackeben's tombstoneTheo Mackeben, born 5 January 1897 in Preußisch Stargard, Westpreußen, died 10 January 1953 in Berlin, was a German pianist, conductor and composer, particularly of film music.- Life and career :...
. The film starred the leading Czech opera singer Jarmila Novotná
Jarmila Novotná was a celebrated Czech soprano and actress and, from 1940 to 1956, a star of the Metropolitan Opera.-Early career:...
in the role of Mařenka ("Marie" in the film), and the German baritone Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender
Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender was a German operatic baritone, particularly associated with Mozart and Verdi roles...
as Jeník ("Hans"). The veteran comedy film actor Max Schreck
Friedrich Gustav Max Schreck was a German actor. He is most often remembered today for his lead role in the film Nosferatu .-Early life:Max Schreck was born in Berlin-Friedenau, on 6 September 1879....
also appeared in the film, in the small role of "Muff", the circus comedian.
Ophuls constructed an entire Czech village in the studio to provide an authentic background. Following the film's US release in 1934, The New York Times (NYT) commented that it "carr[ied] most of the comedy of the original" but was "rather weak on the musical side", despite the presence of stars such as Novotná. Opera-lovers, the NYT reviewer suggested, should not expect too much, but the work nevertheless gave an attractive portrait of Bohemian village life in the mid-19th century. The reviewer found most of the acting first-rate, but commented that "the photography and sound reproduction are none too clear at times."
Other film adaptations of the opera were made in 1922 directed by Oldrich Kminek (Atropos), in 1933, directed by Jaroslav Kvapil
Jaroslav Kvapil was a Czech poet, playwright, and librettist. From 1900 he was a director and Dramaturg at the National Theatre in Prague, where he introduced plays by Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and Maxim Gorky into the repertory. Later he was a director at the Vinohrady Theatre...
, Svatopluk Innemann
Svatopluk Innemann was a Czech film director, cinematographer, screenwriter, film editor and actor. Innemann, brother of Miroslav Innemann and Liduška Innemannová, was one of the pioneers of Czech cinema....
and Emil Pollert
Emil Pollert, born Emil Popper was a Czech opera singer at the National Theatre in Prague, in his time the main representative of bass roles.-Life:...
(Espofilm), and in 1976, directed by Václav Kašlík
Václav Kašlík was a Czech composer, opera director and conductor, known for his operas, both on the stage and on television....
List of musical numbers
The list relates to the final (1870) version of the opera.
||Proč bychom se netěšili
||"Let's rejoice and be merry"
||Kdybych se co takového
||"If I should ever learn"
||Mařenka and Jeník
||Jako matka požehnáním ... Věrné milování
||"While a mother's love..." (leading to) "Faithful love can't be marred"
||Ludmila, Krušina, Kecal
||Jak vám pravím, pane kmotře
||"As I was saying, my good fellow"
||Ludmila, Krušina, Kecal
||"He's a nice boy, well brought up"
||Ludmila, Krušina, Kecal, Mařenka
||Tu ji máme
||"Here she is now"
||Chorus and orchestra
||Pojd' sem, holka, toč se, holka
||"Come, my darlings!"
Chorus with soloists
|Chorus, Kecal, Jeník
||Má ma-ma Matička
||"My-my-my mother said to me"
||Mařenka and Vašek
||Známť já jednu dívčinu
||"I know of a maiden fair"
||Kecal and Jeník
||Nuže, milý chasníku, znám jednu dívku
||"Now, sir, listen to a word or two"
||Až uzříš – Jak možna věřit
||"When you discover whom you've bought"
||Kecal, Jeník, Krušina, Chorus
||"Come inside and listen to me"
||To-to mi v hlavě le-leži
||"I can't get it out of my head"
|March of the Comedians
||"We'll make a pretty thing out of you"
||Háta, Mícha, Kecal, Vašek
||Aj! Jakže? Jakže?
||"He does not want her – what has happened"
||Mařenka, Krušina, Kecal, Ludmila, Háta, Mícha, Vašek
||Ne, ne, tomu nevěřím
||"No, no, I don't believe it"
||Ludmila, Krušina, Kecal, Mařenka, Háta, Mícha,
||Rozmmysli si, Mařenko
||"Make your mind up, Mařenka"
||Ó, jaký žal ... Ten lásky sen
||"Oh what grief"... (leading to) "That dream of love"
||Jeník and Mařenka
||Jeník, Mařenka, Kecal
||Utiš se, dívko
||"Calm down and trust me"
|| Chorus, Mařenka, Jeník, Háta, Mícha, Kecal, Ludmila, Krušina,
||Jak jsi se, Mařenko rozmyslila?
||"What have you decided, Mařenka?"
||All characters and Chorus
||Pomněte, kmotře ... Dobrá věc se podařila
||"He's not grown up yet..." (leading to) "A good cause is won, and faithful love has triumphed."
- Die verkaufte Braut Public domain copy of Max Ophüls 1932 film at Internet Archive.
- Supraphon Details of a 2009 CD reissue of 1952 recording; includes link to a full libretto in English