Saturday, 29 November 2014

The marriage market in Soviet Russia

Bartered Bride (Orchestra of Opera North, cond. Anthony Kraus)

Opera North’s current production of Bedřich Smetana’s Bartered Bride sets the action in some part of the sprawling Russian Empire. In some part where the sun shines – 9th May 1972 according to the posters on the screen – I cannot fathom to what this refers.  But the communist sun shone down on the happy commune. Or did it? the corrupt mayor had to flee, and young love prevailed, whilst a greedy man who attempted to buy a bride for his son, loses money and face.

The setting worked well. The whole thing resembled a propaganda poster. The saturated colours and grimly-determined looks on faces. The lack of opportunity and over-bearing officials and elites. The futility of so much of private lives. 

In some ways, this is a highly conventional opera. Boy meets girl; destined to be together but some societal forces or conventions seem to imperil this; but all works out in end. Amorous Opera Type B: no love potions required. There aren’t really any plot twists so you can enjoy the music, singing and humour. And it this reminds you of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, you aren’t too far away. It even sounds like Gilbert and Sullivan – something in the strings perhaps. And the modern English translation found a lot of humour (some seemed to be in utter hysterics). A lot of rhymes added to this sense of Gilbertian humour.
A solid cast supported this well, but it was Kate Valentine who stole the show as Mařenka –fine in the Rape of Lucretia on Glyndebourne Tour last year as Female Chorus, and as Mimi in the lovely ENO Bohème last year too. Jeník was sung by Brenden Gunnell wonderfully & Vašek his shy, awkward but kindly brother Nicholas Watts. It is unresolved but we have ot hope he rungs off and is happy ever after with Jennifer France's sweet Esmeralda.
A small point:£5 for a programme seemed quite steep compared to Glyndebourne Tour's price of £5 for three operas- something of a bargain if you make it to them all.

Overall: successful translation to English and to Soviet. 

Mařenka - Kate Valentine
Jeník - Brenden Gunnell
Vašek - Nicholas Watts
Kecal - James Creswell
Ludmila - Ann Taylor
Krušina - Peter Savidge
Micha - Stephen Richardson
Háta - Fiona Kimm
Esmeralda - Jennifer France
Circus Master – Campbell Russell

Production now closed.

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