The Bartered Bride – Review – Leeds Grand
The Bartered Bride – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, October 2017
by Sandra Callard
Bedrich Smetana completed his final score for The Bartered Bride in 1866. He continues with numerous rewrites over many years. Finally he arrives at the present production, which Opera North has just unveiled. The Bartered Bride is unusual for opera. It contains hefty chunks of dialogue that do not always sit easily with the music and songs.
Essentially a comedy set in a Czech village concerning two lovers, Marenka (Kate Valentine) and Jenik (Brenden Gunnell). The pair’s voices meld together perfectly. When Jenik arrives in the village he is holding a secret. Marenka’s father owes money to Tobia Micha, a wealthy local businessman. Micha will wipe out the debt if Marenka’s father, Krusina, will allow his son to marry Marenka. The local mayor, Kecal, arranges it. The mayor’s role is taken by James Creswell in a wonderfully reverberating baritone. His arrogance and self assurance is so great that we just know – or hope – that he is heading for a fall. Marenka and Jenik are horrified, but Jenik has a plan, which comes to fruition eventually as he announces to the village what his long-kept secret really is.
Act One – brilliantly and effectively lit by Simon Mills – opens as the villagers prepare for a national holiday. It is a summer’s day. The sky is blue. The lighting brings out sharp, sunlit details. The Chorus of Opera North – always a joy – sing Smetana’s village songs with verve and efficiency. But I do begin to tire somewhat of the constant repetition of the lines of the songs. Sung in English, they are practically all repeated once, twice and sometimes three times. It must save the libretto writer a good deal of time.
“A light and funny production”
Act One and Two, back to back, lack pace. I am ready for the interval. But when Act Three opens it is a whole new ball game. The circus comes to town. The acrobats are tremendous. The ring master, Jiri (a brilliant Peter Bodenham), is funny and clever. Plus, the little ballerina, Esmeralda, played charmingly by Jennifer France, is a joy. She has a beautiful and delicate soprano voice, and I want to hear more of her.
The upbeat tone of the production continues with the confusion as to whether Marenka and Jenik are going to make it to the alter or not. The final denouement, as Jenik reveals his plan and his secret, is beautifully done. The audience react to it with approval. It is a typical happy-ever-after story, and as each gets his own particular desserts, the audience leaves happy.
I must confess to an unfamiliarity with The Bartered Bride. But I know well the famous overture, which the Opera North orchestra deliver beautifully. It is a joyous, exhilarating collection of beautiful folk tunes and melodies, with a clever and fascinating arrangement. It’s very long and, without a doubt, the most superb music of the whole opera. It is this production’s highlight. I am generally unmoved with the other songs and music within the opera. I thought they did not live up the glory of the overture. Yet how lovely it is to relax and watch a light and funny production. A pleasant relief from the tragedy and tears that operas normally portray.
The Bartered Bride is at Leeds Grand Theatre on October 25, 29 & 31, 2014
images: Robert Workman