Today, the exchange of goods and services for money ideally maintains the satisfaction of both consumer and producer: “I’ll sell you this iPod for $300.” In the 19th century Czech Republic you might find this: “I’ll sell this woman as your bride if you give me 300 guilders.” The iPod isn’t free to choose if the exchange should take place. Neither is the bride.
Bedrich Smetana’s Czech opera “The Bartered Bride,” now playing at the Power Center through March 18th, tells the story of a woman who decides to speak up.
Marenka and Jenik are in love with each other, but the soon-to-be-bartered bride’s parents have arranged her a marriage with the landowner’s son Vasek. What ensues is a cunning agreement on Jenik’s part with the marriage broker so that he may attempt to win Marenka’s hand in marriage.
With all its deception and humor the opera seems somewhat Shakespearean. “The fusion of folk music and folk melody with classical styles makes it particularly Czech,” said director Joshua Major, a school of music prof.
Probably the greatest challenge for the cast was learning how to speak and sing in a foreign language, encountered less often in opera than, say, Italian. Major directed them in an expression of the Czech language. Coaching them was assistant School of Music professor, Timothy Cheek who is fluent in the language. 200 pre-rehearsal hours followed by more than 30 hours per week of dedication allowed the crew to tackle the Czech language.
“It was a lot of work to make the action specific and understandable with a language that is foreign to all who are involved,” Major said.
Smetana’s opera is very particular to the Czech Republic and to Eastern Europe. According to conductor and school of music prof Andrew George, the 19th century Czech music bears a “nationalistic” sound. Smetana draws on rural Eastern European folk melodies as a basis for his own interpretation.
“It’s fascinating how much variety of sound composers create with different instrument combinations – like a painter who has access to the same colors, but combines them in different ways for their unique and distinctive art,” George said.
You probably don’t speak Czech, but the story can be easily grasped. Its relatable themes speak a common language known to all and has the ability to pull its audience into a 19th century Czech Republic.
The Bartered Bride
Today, tomorrow and Sunday at 8 p.m.
At the Power Center