When one thinks of opera, usually the legendary late Pavarotti comes to mind; these two naturally go hand-in-hand in people’s minds. Typically performed in a foreign language and accompanied with classical music that is played by a live orchestra, sadly opera does have a reputation for being “stuffy”, more suited for an older audience and being a high brow affair.
This is what makes The NBR New Zealand Opera’s performance of The Bartered Bride truly a unique and refreshing experience. Though originally written in Czech by Bedřich Smetana, it is sung in English so New Zealand audiences can easily connect and better relate to the story. It also features the “who’s who” of the New Zealand opera world so while it is a Czech national opera, it is also very much a proud New Zealand production.
If you are yet to experience the opera but are curious to, The Bartered Bride is the perfect one to ease yourself in to. It is incredibly accessible, unpretentious and even though it does have political and social undertones throughout the narrative, it is essentially a romantic comedy – something everyone is familiar with.
The Bartered Bride is set in a Bohemian village in 1972 and is a tale of two lovers, Mařenka and Jeník, who want to be together but this desire is thwarted by a manipulative scheme orchestrated by the bullying village mayor and also marriage broker, Kecal. Through an agreement with Mařenka’s social climbing parents, he decrees that she should be wed instead to Vašek, the younger son of Tobiáš Mícha. As to be expected, Mařenka refuses this arranged marriage which leads Kecal to make another agreement, this time with Jeník himself. To Mařenka’s horror, she soon discovers that her beloved Jeník appears to have sold her. Angered and betrayed, she in turn resolves to do some scheming of her own.
A highlight for me was the traveling circus troupe which take the stage after the interval. I thought this was a well-timed change of pace in the story arc and an incredibly fun one at that! From juggling to acrobatics to a very impressive stunt involving a stack of chairs, we are treated to an awe-inspiring visual spectacle of vaudeville and energetic circus tricks. This scene, as well as other action scenes (notably the bar brawl scene) make full use of a colorful array of props, the stage and are all exceptionally choreographed.
As a collective sound everyone from the main characters to the ensemble were simply outstanding. The orchestra headed by Oliver von Dohnányi marries voice and music harmoniously; one is never overpowering the other. I always find it such a shame that we cannot see the orchestra. With this particular orchestra, even though you can only hear them, each instrument stands out in its own right but also come together in one heavenly voice, beautifully accompanying and enhancing what is happening on stage.
I thought Anna Leese gave an incredibly heartfelt and absolutely flawless performance as Mařenka – beautiful and effortless vocals with such great control. She is perfectly paired with Peter Wedd who played Jeník. His vocals were also impressive and had a really lovely soothing tone to it which was so pleasing to the ear. It’s not surprising that they were cast as the two leads as they share an undeniable chemistry on stage and every time they sang together, their voices just complemented each other wonderfully.
I also really liked the meek and stuttering Vašek, embodied perfectly by Andrew Glover. His character brought a welcome element of comedy to the show and I thought he did a brilliant job with the lines he had to simultaneously stammer and sing. On the other extreme, I thought Conal Coad was remarkable as Kecal. He played the antagonist with ease, commanding the stage with an intimidating yet, at times I found, almost comical presence, which sounds an odd combination but actually worked.
The Bartered Bride is an absolutely triumph and an opera experience like no other – a breathtaking vocal and visual masterpiece. A massive well done to Daniel Slater for directing such a fantastic production, as well as to everyone involved from cast to crew. Simply superb!
The Whimsical Banana rates The Bartered Bride: 5/5 bananas!
The Bartered Bride is an Opera North production featuring The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus and accompanied by The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra*.
The Auckland season has finished but The Bartered Bride is headed for Wellington next! For dates, more information and to get tickets, click here.
*The Wellington shows will be accompanied by the Vector Wellington Orchestra.