Bedřich Smetana’s 1866 comic opera, The Bartered Bride, follows a classic and timeless plot line: Mařenka, a farmer’s daughter falls in love with Jeník, the son of a landowner. Despite the efforts of ambitious parents and a scheming marriage broker to derail the relationship, true love prevails. Set in a rustic Bohemian village, the opera is a celebration of Czech folk music. It erupts with spirited dance forms such as the polka and furiant. The three act opera laid the foundation for a distinctly Czech musical tradition which was continued by later composers such as Dvořák and Janáček.
The opera’s zaniness is encapsulated in the Overture. The spirited opening bars erupt with wild syncopations followed by a torrent of descending notes. Following this boisterous musical “call to order,” a series of breathless contrapuntal lines thrust us into the ultimate exhilarating suspense. The music we hear in the Overture returns in the Act II finale, in which a contract is drawn up determining whom Mařenka must marry. Smetana defied convention by writing the Overture before the opera itself. It is a dizzying and virtuosic tour de force.
Here is James Levine’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic:
- Smetana: The Bartered Bride Overture, James Levine, Vienna Philharmonic Amazon
Featured Image: Cover of the score of “The Bartered Bride”, 1919