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ClassicsOnline Home » SMETANA: Bartered Bride (The) (Prague National Opera) (1933)
By Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News
"Naxos' historical series has mostly been devoted to famous performances by celebrities of past generations. This set, though, is a real sleeper. A cast of Czech singers made the first recording of Bedrich Smetana's classic comic opera, The Bartered Bride, in 1933. Acoustic genius Ward Marston has made the sound very acceptable on CD. These performers from nearly 70 years ago have terrific presence and terrific personalities.
There's no translation, but the plot summaries make the action easy to follow. The singers have the music and story in their blood. And conductor Otakar Ostrcil whips up the famous orchestral dances to a merry frenzy."
By Alan Rich
"Ever since I sold my 78s and left home unencumbered, one of the albums that I've most often longed to hear again has been RCA-Victor M-193, Smetana's The Bartered Bride, complete on 15 shellacs, in a performance - by the Prague National Opera under Ottakar Ostrcil - that seemed at the time as pure an essence of romantic comedy as ever was. Now, I report with practically gurgling joy, it still does. Naxos, that most unpredictable of all labels, has reissued that performance on two little silvery discs that weigh about 1/200 of the pristine weight, in a remastering by restorer Ward Marston, priced at far fewer 2001 dollars ($12) than the original sold for in 1933 dollars ($22.50)...
Naxos has now moved into territory abandoned by the majors, as preserver of the industry's legendary past: not only complete operas but also forgotten unforgettable soloists. Marston and his crew create minor miracles in rescuing ancient sounds in their original - not beefed-up - resonance. And when Emil Pollert, the marriage broker in this new/old, glorious, best-of-all Bartered Brides, sings out his 'A chalupu a chalupu,' I laugh myself silly once again, and the years fall away."
Bohemia had for centuries provided musicians for the Habsburg Empire, but it was with Bedrich Smetana that Czech music assumed a true national identity of its own. Born the son of a master-brewer in the service of Count Waldstein, Smetana had an early education that allowed only intermittent attention to music but he was later able to support himself as a piano teacher in the house of a nobleman in Prague, while taking private lessons. His aim, as he put it, was to be a Liszt in piano technique and a Mozart in composition. He was involved in the abortive nationalist rising of 1848 and took refuge for a time in Sweden, before settling again in Bohemia after the Austrian defeat by Napoleon III in 1859. His interest now settled on the new Provisional Theatre in Prague, where he became conductor in 1866, after earlier disappointment. His Czech opera The Brandenburgers in Bohemia was staged there on 5th January 1866, followed on 30th May by a new opera, The Bartered Bride, in a version that lacked the later dances. The opera was revised in 1869, when the Act II Polka was added, among other changes, and there was further revision, with the final version appearing in 1870. Smetanas other operas were Dalibor, Libuse, The Two Widows, The Kiss, The Secret and The Devils Wall. the last of these was given an indifferent first performance in 1882, when Smetana was already suffering from the illness that would bring about madness and death two years later.
The conductor of the Prague National Opera Company recording of 1933, a model for later interpretations of the work, was Otakar Ostrcil, who had become music director of the National Theatre in 1920, a position he retained until his death in 1935. During his tenure he established a sound international repertoire for the company, while paying special attention to operas by Smetana and Dvorák, with first performances of works by Janácek. The company included the leading soprano Ada Nordenová, here in the rôle of Marenka, with the bass Emil Pollert as Kecal, and, in the present recording, a cast able to give a definitive historical performance of the most popular of Smetanas operas.
 The sparkling Overture includes themes that return in the finale of Act I.
 Scene 1. The scene is set in a village outside an inn on a holiday in spring. The villagers sing in celebration of the day and the season. Jeník asks Marenka what is troubling her and she tells him that she is afraid that her father is trying to arrange a marriage for her. He tells her to be brave and surely they will find a way out of the difficulty.
Scene 2. Marenka tells Jeník that she is afraid that Mícha will soon be there to see the girl to marry his son Vasek and that her father has made a promise to Mícha. She tells Jeník of her love for him, seeking his assurance and asking him about his youth, which he never talks about. He tells her that his mother died and his father married again, so that he was forced to leave home; now, though, he finds comfort in her love. She hears the marriage-broker Kecal approaching, with her father, and hides, while Jeník makes off.
 Scene 3. Kecal comes in with Marenkas father, Krusina, and her mother, Ludmila. Kecal is urging Krusina to sign the marriage agreement. Krusina hesitates and Ludmila thinks that they must consult Marenka before going any further. Kecal tells them that it is for parents to make such decisions, acting with the sound advice that he can give. He shows impatience, when Ludmila insists that her daughter see her future husband, but recovers himself, telling her that the boy is ideal and rich. They still hesitate. Krusina says that he knows that Mícha has two sons, neither of which he has seen, the first by his first wife and the other by his second. Ludmila asks which is the son in question, and is told that it is the second, Vasek, as the first disappeared years ago. Kecal, who has urged his case on the grounds of an existing verbal agreement, goes on to praise the proposed bridegroom, perfect in every respect, and, of course, rich, convincing his clients.
Scene 4. Kecal urges the couple to let him deal with Marenka, who now appears, asking why her parents should need Kecals advice. He, however, offers her a fine young man, and would leave her no choice in the matter, while her parents still have reservations. She, however, will have none of the proposed match, hinting at another attachment. Kecal assures them that romantic matters of this kind soon pass. They argue, since Kecal claims that an agreement has already been made and witnessed, a contract that Marenka regards as completely invalid and something her Jeník will never accept. Krusina suggests that his daughter should see the young man and Kecal proposes that they should meet, while he deals with Jeník.
Scene 5. To the sound of a polka the people gather before the inn, the older sitting down and the younger ready to dance, celebrating the holiday.
 Scene 1. In the inn Jeník and his friends are sitting at one side of the room and Kecal on the other. They are drinking. The young men are happy in their drinking, but Jeník misses Marenka. One of his friends points to Kecal, claiming that only money will bring a marriage. Kecal declares his own belief in money as a sign of worth. They are joined by girls and the young people dance a furiant, as they go.
Scene 2. Vasek enters shyly, stammering as he rehearses his speech.
Scene 3. Marenka joins him, recognising him as the proposed bridegroom of Krusina, but not revealing her identity. She tells him that all the girls in the village are sorry for him, because his proposed bride is in love with someone else and will certainly deceive him; there is another girl in the village who would suit him. He is afraid that his mother will scold him, but she seems to suggest that she is in love with him, but he must swear not to marry Marenka. This he eventually does, as she prompts him. He tries to embrace her, but she runs away, laughing.
 Scene 4. Jeník comes in with Kecal, who advises him of the value of money. He asks Jeník where he has come from, and Jeník tells him he has come nearly from Moravia. That, then, is where he should marry, Kecal tells him, since girls are in short supply in this region. He goes on to describe the problems of marriage, as love passes and there is no money. Kecal has just the girl for Jeník, rich and pretty, and he will introduce him without payment. Eventually he offers to pay Jeník to give up Marenka and Jeník agrees, on condition that Marenka shall only marry a son of Tobias Mícha and that Mícha shall, on the marriage, withdraw any financial claim he may have against her father.
Scene 5. Jeník is happy at his achievement. Soon he will be able to marry Marenka and has outwitted the greedy marriage-broker Kecal.
Scene 6. Kecal now announces to the villagers Jeníks renunciation of Marenka, to general disapproval at this bartering of the intended bride for money. Jeník, however, makes the condition on which he has given up his claim very clear: he will only agree on condition that Marenka marries the son of Tobias Mícha. Krusina joins in the disapproval, but is relieved that the matter has been settled.
 Scene 1. Vasek is alone in the main square of the village. He expresses his doubts about the proposed marriage, stuttering, as he does so.
Scene 2. A circus troupe arrives in the village and the ringmaster announces the coming entertainment, introducing, in particular, the dancer Esmeralda, a captured Red Indian and a dancing bear. They give the people an example of what they can do in the Dance of the Comedians. Vasek is fascinated by Esmeralda, who asks him if he is coming to the show. The Indian runs in with the news that Franta who impersonates the performing bear is dead drunk and cannot even stand. The ringmaster tells the man to find someone else of the right size for the costume. They look at Vasek and the ringmaster invites him, if he is so attracted to Esmeralda, to join their company, outlining the advantages of a strolling players life.
Scene 3. Esmeralda adds her voice, showing him the bear costume. They go off, signing to Vasek to follow.
 Scene 4. Vasek is bewildered at the female attention he is receiving, but is now joined by his parents. His mother tells him that there is nothing to fear and soon he will be married. Kecal adds that now all that is left is for him to sign the marriage contract, a contract, his father tells him, to marry Marenka. Varek shocks them all by telling them that he does not want her: he has been warned about Marenka by a girl who seemed to be in love with him. The others suspect a plot and Kecal declares that he will sort the matter out.
Scene 5. Marenka rushes in, followed by her father and mother. She refuses to believe what is said about Jeník, but Kecal shows her the signed agreement. Her mother tries to comfort her, as Kecal urges her signature. Varek appears, but Marenka would rather be single than marry him. Kecal calls to Varek, who now points to Marenka as the girl who warned him, her identity now revealed to him by both sets of parents, who tell her to think matters over.
Scene 6. Left alone, Marenka is left wondering at the change in her fortunes.
 Scene 7. She is joined by Jeník, full of enthusiasm. She asks him if what she has been told is true and he agrees, laughing, then offering an explanation. Eventually she slaps his face, without having heard what he has to say.
Scene 8. Kecal approaches, telling Jeník that he will soon have his money. He insists again that it must be stipulated that Marenka only marry the son of Tobias Mícha and asks how much Kecal will pay him, if he persuades Marenka to agree, to her distress. He urges her to agree, and as Kecal goes to fetch their parents, she turns away from him.
Scene 9. The villagers gather together, now all is settled. Marenka has made up her mind to take revenge on Jeník by agreeing to Kecals proposal. Jeník comes forward, proclaiming a day of celebration, and is recognised by Mícha and his stepmother, to her discomfiture and that of Kecal. He asks Marenka to choose between him and Va_ek, but she does not hesitate in her choice. Kecal is dismayed and reproached by Mícha, while otherwise there is general delight.
Scene 10. A boy rushes in, shouting that the bear from the circus is loose and heading their way. It is, of course, Vasek, who tells them not to be afraid. His mother pushes him away, and follows him out, while Mícha gives his blessing to Marenka and Jeník and all ends happily.
The Bartered Bride
Libretto by Karel Sabina
(Comic Opera in Three Acts)
Krusina, a peasant (baritone)
Ludmila, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
..Marie Pixová Marenka, their daughter (soprano)
Mícha, a farmer (bass)
Háta, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
Vasek, their son (tenor)
Jeník, Míchas son from the first marriage (tenor)
Kecal, a marriage-broker (bass)
Principal of the comedians (tenor)
Esmeralda, a comedienne (soprano)
Indian, a comedian (bass)
Prague National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
Conducted by Otakar Ostrcil
Recorded in Prague, 23 June 1933, by His Masters Voice on 30 sides.
Matrices: 2WX 449, 2WX 454- 459, 2WX 462- 464, 2WX 469- 483, 2WX 488- 490, 2WX 497-498.
Issued on catalogue numbers: AN 801-815
Tak tedy prece se to státi má (Marenka, Jeník)
Proc bychom se netesili (Chorus, Marenka, Jeník)
Kdybych se co takového o tobe dozvedela (Marenka, Jeník )
Jako matka pozehnáním (Jeník, Marenka)
Verné milování (Jeník, Marenka)
Jak vám pravím, pane kmotre (Kecal, Krusina, Ludmila)
Ovsem Tobiáse Míchu znám (Krusina, Kecal, Ludmila)
Mladík slusny a mravu víc tichych (Kecal, Ludmila, Krusina)
Tu ji máme (Kecal, Krusina, Ludmila, Marenka)
Jeník neupustí (Marenka, Ludmila, Krusina, Kecal)
Pojd sem, holka (Chorus)
To pivecko veru je nebesky dar (Chorus, Jeník, Kecal)
Ma-ma-ma-maticka povídala (Vasek)
Vy jste zajisté zenich (Marenka, Vasek)
Známt já jednu dívcinu (Marenka, Vasek)
Jak pravím, hezká je (Kecal, Jeník)
Nuze, mily chasníku (Kecal, Jeník)
Kazdy jen tu svou má za jedinou (Kecal, Jeník)
Znám jednu dívku, ta má dukáty (Kecal, Jeník)
Odreknes-li se Marenky (Kecal, Jeník)
Jak mozná verit, ze bych já prodal svoji Marenku (Jeník)
Finale: Pojdte, lidicky (Kecal, Jeník, Krusina, Chorus)
To- to mi v hlave lezí (Vasek)
Ohlasujeme slavnému publikum (Principal)
Je- je-je-je! To bude hezké! (Vasek, Esmeralda, Indian, Principal)
Milostné zvírátko udeláme z vás (Esmeralda, Principal)
Oh, já ne-ne-nestastny... (Vasek, Háta, Kecal, Mícha)
Ne, ne, tomu neverím (Marenka, Krusina, Kecal, Ludmila, Háta, Mícha, Vasek)
Rozmysli si, Marenko (Ludmila, Háta, Krusina, Kecal, Mícha, Marenka)
Oh, jaky zal! (Marenka)
Ten lásky sen (Marenka)
Marenko má (Jeník, Marenka)
Tak tvrdosíjná, dívko, jsi (Jeník, Marenka)
Hle, hle, chasniku, cekás uz na peníze? (Kecal, Marenka, Jeník)
Utiz se, dívko, utis se (Jeník, Marenka, Kecal)
Finale: Jak jsi se, Marenko, rozmyslila? (Chorus, Marenka, Ludmila, Háta, Jeník, Krusina, Mícha, Kecal)
Dobrá vec se podarila! (Krusina, Ludmila, Mícha, Marenka, Jeník, Chorus)