Following on from very positive reviews of this production last week, it was good to see a well-attended ASB Theatre for NZ Opera’s production of Smetana “The Bartered Bride”. From a visual perspective, this production is from a successful Opera North (UK) directed by Daniel Slater (who is also directing this production) and the setting is the early 1970s Czechoslovakia. So the costumes are rather dullish and the hammer and sickle emblems and other trappings of the former Eastern Bloc are there but not in abundance. The story is set in a village after all and the people are simple folk who love their beer, the circus and their gossip.
Vocally speaking, the cast is strong but the stand-out performers are clear. Anna Leese is splendid as Mařenka (even though her costume is forgettably drab), bass Conal Coad displays wonderfully wobbling jowls and vowels as the mayor / matchmaker Kecal and Andrew Glover stuttered his way splendidly as the weak (but rich) Vašek. Peter Wedd’s Jenik was a bit weak by comparison but this may have been down to the adaptation of the libretto – it was in realistic English which is good and easy to follow, and not a stylized translation designed to fit the music as in some other versions. But there are a lot of words to fit in the arias, particularly for Mařenka and Jenik and not a lot of time to linger on too many notes. This would explain a perceived lack of vocal power from both of them at times. Clearly, it’s not an easy score to sing !
The chorus are very good from the opening “Let’s rejoice and be merry” right through to the end (helped along by a generous amount of beer being poured in various scenes) and the energetic Oliver von Dohnanyi (who conducted the original Opera North production) got an equally energetic and well-paced response from the Auckland Philharmonia in the pit.
One particular highlight was the real acrobats and performers doing a splendid routine accompanied by the “Dance of the Comedians”. In fact all of the circus scenes in Act III definitely stood out visually. Taryn Fiebig as Esemerelda was also vocally excellent as well as showing a few ballet pointe skills as well which were equally impressive. Jeff Kingsford Brown as the Ringmaster made the most of his lines poking fun at the prevailing Warsaw Pact regimes.
All in all, a good production charming to the ear if not entirely on the eye.