[Met Performance] CID:255380
New production
The Bartered Bride {58} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/25/1978.

(Debuts: Alan Crofoot, Pavel Smok
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 25, 1978
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
In English (Translation: Tony Harrison)
New production


THE BARTERED BRIDE {58}
Smetana-Sabina

Marenka.................Teresa Stratas
Jeník...................Nicolai Gedda
Vasek...................Jon Vickers
Kecal...................Martti Talvela
Ludmila.................Elizabeth Coss
Krusina.................Derek Hammond-Stroud
Háta....................Jean Kraft
Tobias..................John Cheek
Circus Barker...........Alan Crofoot [Debut]
Esmeralda...............Colette Boky
Red Indian..............Andrij Dobriansky

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............John Dexter
Set designer............Josef Svoboda
Costume designer........Jan Skalicky
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler
Choreographer...........Pavel Smok [Debut]

The Bartered Bride received eighteen performances this season.

Production gift of the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation

Review of Alan Rich in the November 20, 1978 issue of New York Magazine

THE SIN OF FALSE 'BRIDE'

"…Everything the Met has done works against the joys that lie, apparent to all, you'd think, within "The Bartered Bride…"



Karel Sabina, who wrote the libretto for Bedrich Smetana's "The Bartered Bride," was a political activist, an associate of anarchists, a pamphleteer in the cause of Slavonic liberation from the yoke of imperialism, a spy, and a political prisoner. This much I learn from Tony Harrison's program note that accompanies the Met's new production of Smetana's opera. Harrison has done the new English translation for the Met, John Dexter has done the staging, and James Levine the musical direction. All three have apparently done their work in the light of Sabina's personal history, which means that they have seriously misrepresented the nature of Smetana's opera. So to treat Smetana's utterly charming, jovial setting of Sabina's equally witty and simple text is as absurd as to reinterpret "Grimm's Fairy Tales" in the light of the Grimm brothers' researches into linguistics.

Everything the Met has contrived works against the joys that lie, readily apparent to all, one would think, within this magical score. The marvelous folk dances become, in Pavel Smok's choreography, tortured mass movements - something for the Act I Polka resembling the prisoners' chorus in "Fidelio," something for the Act II Furiant resembling the murderous "rumble" in "West Side Story." Josef Svoboda's sets - huge, menacing, blank structures in back, a set of moving stockade fences in front that encage all attempts at free movement - fairly shriek their accents of doom. Only Jan Skalicky's costumes are in any way related to the sense of the opera; some among them - best of all, the circus getups - are quite splendidly witty.

Musically, the production is of like quality. One can admire the bright, hard-edged playing of Levine's orchestra, which does some kind of justice to the elegance of Smetana's score. But where are the love, the warmth, the rejoicing in the radiance of sound that inform every measure of this piece? In the singing of a capable cast there is, similarly, no joy, none of the naturalistic timing that could make one care about the lovable, silly folk who people Sabina's play clothed in Smetana's deeply affectionate music. Teresa Stratas and Nicolai Gedda make consistently lovely sounds as the two lovers, but they have been encouraged to sing in an overstressed, "operatic" manner appropriate to far sterner stuff; Jon Vickers, in the unlikely role of a stammering booby, seems constantly on the verge of expiration from terminal apoplexy. And in the role of the marriage broker, one of the juiciest in all comic opera, Martti Talvela's heavy, juiceless singing makes no sense whatever.

How could the Met so misjudge so wondrous a work? No ready answers come to mind. One must admire, in some perverse sense, the deadly consistency of the production, extending to Tony Harrison's tortuous, verbose translation (in which folksy slanginess consists mostly of the dropping of personal pronouns). But if ever the folly of "modern" interpretations of past works of art was patent to the mob, it is here: an artwork sublimely loaded with information about its own high worth, but with virtually every scrap of this information ignored.



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