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UBC Offers an authentic Bride

The Bartered Bride, March 6 – 9, 2003

The Georgia Straight

by Michael Harrison

Bedrich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride is set in a Czech village in the mid-19th century. It’s a tuneful, delightful romp, and the composer shows his romantic side in the third act with an inspired ensemble number and a glorious soprano aria, “Ten Lasky Sen”, which changes the mood from lighthearted comedy to passionate drama.

With this authentic and idiomatic production of Smetana’s bohemian masterpiece, Nancy Hermiston, head of the opera division at UBC’s school of music, gave her students the opportunity of working with Czech conductor Norbert Baxa and director Josef Novak. The colourful costumes were designed by the Opava State Opera in the Czech Republic, and experienced coach Milena Janda guided the two casts of principals and a chorus of 20 through the intricacies of the Czech language. They sang with conviction and enthusiasm.

The Bartered Bride concentrates on the love story between Smetana’s rustic Romeo, Jenik, and his Juliet, Marenka. Despite the opposition of their parents and an interfering marriage broker named Kecal, all ends happily.

The chorus sang with the kind of zest often missing in professional performances, and director Novak had them interact with each other in a convincing, natural way.

The UBC Symphony Orchestra played well for conductor Baxa, with the wind section particularly outstanding. Baxa’s choice of tempos brought out the joy of the work as well as the pathos in the final act.

The two casts had different strengths. On opening night, the stars were Neema Bickersteth as Marenka and Pierre Hungr as Kecal. Bickersteth has a radiant soprano voice with an unforced warm tone throughout the register. Hungr acted and sang the role of the rascal Kecal with authority .and conviction and was more convincing than Gerrit Theule, who on Friday sometimes couldn’t be heard. The only disappointment in Thursday’s strong cast was Alex Good in the role of Vasek. Good is a talented performer but overacted on this occasion, making Vasek appear to be a fool rather than the simple but likable young man who should touch our hearts. Ben Schnitzer’s performance of the part on Friday illuminated the character far more realistically by not playing the clown.

A highlight on Friday was the sensitive and compelling Marenka of Rhoslyn Jones, who gave Marenka depth, substance, and compassion.

The two casts offered different insights into this fascinating work. On Thursday, the emphasis was on comedy, and on the vocal splendor of Bickersteth, whose impressive singing of Smetana’s demanding music pointed to the prospect of a future international career. On the other hand, Friday saw Jones and company delving deeper into the characters’ psyches, bringing a measure of poignancy and subtlety, as well as good-natured humour, to Smetana’s musical expression of Bohemian folk life.

Thu Mar 13, 2003