For those who enjoyed the recent ENO production of
this opera and want a recording in the original language there can be
no better choice than this fine, budget priced, and all-Czech historical
reissue. It was recorded in Vienna by the National Opera of Prague just
five years before the outbreak of the Second World War and was the first
recording of this most popular of Czech operas. Known to concert audiences
everywhere because of the famed overture and suite of traditional dances,
it still appears on the world's opera stages because of its undeniably
bubbly and engaging music.
A farce involving an avaricious marriage broker, a
dancing bear, and young lovers who do not always do what they are told,
it is filled with ensemble work and this company was noted for that
during the 1920s and 30s. Under the skilled guidance and inspiration
of director and conductor Otakar Ostrcil, the best Czech singers of
the period were assembled. Remarkable among the fine cast is soprano
Ada Nordenová as a lively, charming Marenka and the clear-voiced
tenor Vladimír Toms as her (eventual) intended, Jeník.
The real charm of this recording is the shared enjoyment
of the large cast in bringing this opera to life. Their ensemble work
is so carefully detailed and full of subtlety that it is a pleasure
to hear. The singers had worked together, for the most part, for many
years under music director Ostrcil and the benefits of this association
are clearly evident. The conducting is brisk and full of life and the
chorus is not shy when they are centre-stage.
This recording, remastered by the respected Ward Marston,
has clean surfaces and the voices have good presence. The orchestra
sound is, however, a bit muddy. Those who need stereo digital sound
this opera on Supraphon. It occupies three disks but it does have
the splendid Gabriela Benacková as Marenka. It also has a libretto,
unlike the present set, which only gives plot summaries.