This was one of those evenings when I had to divide myself in two in order to catch The Bartered Bride at the Patricia Corbett Theatre and the second half of the CCM Philharmonia Concert in Corbett Auditorium.
Inevitably I had to miss the second half of the opera and the first half of the orchestral concert.
To the best of my knowledge Bedřich Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride has not had a major American production since the MET revived the 1978 John Dexter production in 1996 for Teresa Stratas as Mařenka and Nicolai Gedda as Jeník.
Why may we ask should this comic gem by the composer of the familiar Die Moldau be treated as an operatic stepchild? Many concertgoers are familiar with its Overture, a lively opener for any orchestral concert. But that’s how it goes with so many neglected operatic works that fall outside the canon of the Twenty Most Popular Operas.
If someone alleges it is the mouth-filling Czech language with its consonant-filled syllables that which keeps singers and producers at bay with The Bartered Bride, why not do it in English then. CCM does it here with an intelligent and intelligible English translation by Kathleen Kelly sprinkled now and then with a bit of Czech for the sake of color.
Smetana’s Bride is married to a lighthearted libretto by the Czech writer Karel Sabina. It tells the story of a secret but innocent love between two locals, Mařenka and Jeník. She is the only daughter of two well-to-do and well-meaning but overreaching ranchers, Krušina and Ludmilla.
Janik’ father, the widower Micha, now married to second wife Háta wants the best for Vašek, who happens to be his younger and homelier offspring from his previous marriage. “The best” happens to be Mařenka, the most eligible girl in the county, whose parents want to marry her to Vašek at all costs. That will include the costly marriage brokerage fees payable to Kecal, who stands to get a nice fat fee from the parents of homely Vašek, who happens to be challenged in more ways than one.
Well, complicated as these country relationships can be, true love triumphs at the end as it does in all comic operas.
The CCM production is faithful to the original intentions and style of Smetana’s folk tale told in lively music and well-spoken dialogue (English here), and the young singing actors in the bright cast do well by Smetana’s gentle writing for younger voices.
Lyric soprano Brittany Olivia Logan as Mařenka is vocally impressive. Jordan Lloyd as Jeník has an engaging tenor voice, and both he and Logan make a charming couple. Mishael Eusebio, delivers a hilarious performance as the shy and bespectacled Vašek. Ryan Wolfe sings the important bass role of Kecal with dry humor and a lyrical approach that served both him and Smetana’s music well.
Most gratifying of all this was to see CCM at its best: idiomatic and rock solid playing by the young players in the orchestra authoritatively and flexibly led by Levi Hammer, and a gifted and large cast of budding singing actors with acting, dancing, and musical talents.
The light-touch stage direction by Audrey Chait set the action in a closer-to-us 1948 Texas ranch community peopled by Czech émigrés, mercifully avoiding conceptual impositions and cowboy clichés. The imaginative production design by Joshua E. Gallagher (sets) and Blaine Shepherd, (costumes) completed the perfect picture.
With an overall integrity that served both the audience and the participating artist-students CCM again delivered with the quality we have all come to expect of its opera productions.
At the other end of the CCM village, the Philharmonia Orchestra played in the second half of its concert a lovely Symphony in C, of Bizet, a youthful work by the French composer that showcased both the rank and file of the players, the exceptional oboist Leonardo de la Cruz, and the excellent student conductor John Murton.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com