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March 2: birthday of Bedrich Smetana

March 2: birthday of Bedrich Smetana featured image

Traditional costumes in a scene from Kenish Opera’s production of  The Bartered Bride

Czech nationalist Bedrich Smetana was a leader in developing and promoting a distinctly Czech musical style, a movement picked up by Dvorak a few decades later. He was active as a pianist, music teacher, and composer, and the work he is best known for is his comic opera The Bartered Bride.

Like many Czech composers, Smetana wanted to promote the wealth of musical talent of his homeland, and The Bartered Bride is considered a major contribution towards this manifesto. Instead of featuring kings, queens, or mythical figures, the story focusses on everyday people in a country village and tells the tale of true love winning out over the machinations of ambitious parents and a devious marriage broker. Smetana incorporated traditional Bohemian dances like polkas (which are upbeat and good at parties) and the furiant (which is more rapid and fiery, but can be equally festive).

The premiere of The Bartered Bride, May 30, 1866 at the Prague Provisional Theatre didn’t go well. It was programmed on a national holiday (this is an issue to this day – avoid programming your concerts over a long weekend!). It was stiflingly hot, and air conditioning wasn’t invented yet. To top it off, war between Prussia and Austria was an issue, and folks weren’t up for light opera comedy. Soon after the initial run, Smetana tinkered with the format of this work, swapped one dance for another, created a proper third act, and by September 1870 the Bride had a makeover, so to speak, and is the version we know today. In recent decades, The Bartered Bride has been performed in Europe, making its way to the States and is now very much a part of the standard repertoire in opera companies around the world.

Soprano Adelaide Boedecker singing Marenka’s aria from Act III: “Oh, what despair!” sung in English, in more contemporary-era dress than the usual peasant-inspired traditional costumes. This appears to be an open dress rehearsal, where the cast and crew run through everything, including costumes and lighting, with invited friends in the audience. Open dress rehearsals is the best opportunity for marketing staff and invited media to get their photos without disrupting a paying audience. You can hear a few camera clicks at the start, and supportive applause at the conclusion.

Bedrich Smetana was born March 2, 1824 in Prague, Bohemia, and died May 12, 1884, in Prague.


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