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Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
The Bartered Bride

Krušina, a peasant: Jan Konstantin
Ludmila, his wife: Marie Pixová
Marenka, their daughter: Ada Nordenová
Micha, a farmer: Zdenek Otava
Háta, his wife: Mata Krásonová
Vašek, their son: Jaroslav Gleich
Jeník, Micha's son from the first marriage: Vladimír Toms
Kecal, a marriage broker: Emil Pollert
Principal of the comedians: Karel Hruška
Esmeraldra, a comedienne: Otta Horáková
Indian, a comedian: Václav Marek
Orchestra and Chorus of the National Opera Company of Prague
Conductor: Otakar Ostrcil
Recorded in Vienna, from 6 to 23 June, 1933
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110098-99 [2 CDs 117.51]


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 might try 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.

Frank Cadenhead


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