[Met Performance] CID:131070

The Bartered Bride
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, February 28, 1941 Matinee

In English

The Bartered Bride (51)
Bed?ich Smetana | Karel Sabina
Jarmila Novotna

Charles Kullman

Karl Laufkötter

Ezio Pinza

Thelma Votipka

Arthur Kent

Irra Petina

John Gurney

Circus Barker
John Dudley

Natalie Bodanya

Red Indian
Ludwig Burgstaller

Ruthanna Boris

Monna Montes

Josef Levinoff

Bruno Walter

Herbert Graf

Set Designer
Joseph Novak

Boris Romanoff

Translation by M. Marshall
The Bartered Bride received four performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune

Czechish Merry-Go-Round

The work is lovely and melodious. Yesterday's performance was a brilliant one musically. Madame Novotna and Mr. Kullman sang smoothly indeed. Bruno Walter conducted with brio and with delicacy. Why I found the whole thing a bore I do not know. But I did. I was ill at ease from the instant the overture began, nervous, bothered, eager to escape. I have seldom been so relieved as I was when the final curtain fell at a quarter to five. And yet it had been in most ways a brilliant performance.

One of the elements of it that bothered me was the orchestra. The sound of it was indifferent, false, insincere. Bruno Walter seemed to be having trouble with his musicians, to be working against resistance. He got his effects. Only at what an effort! The tempi dropped behind his beat; the violins scratched; the ensemble had no unity, no blend.. One felt that he felt as if he were swimming in molasses. Is it possible, I wondered, that an Italian clique within the orchestra may be doing its best to make life difficult for him? Such incidents are far from unknown in opera houses. And Mr. Walter is supposed to have been the victim of a similar cabal some years ago at the Philharmonic. Certainly the Metropolitan's excellent orchestra, which plays so willingly and so brightly for the Italian conductors, sounded neither eager nor cheerful yesterday. Its rendition of Smetana's charming score was superior in musical depth and in musical architecture to what we usually hear at the opera, but every inch of that incised and sculptured rendering sounded to me as if it were being wrested from the orchestra against its will by sheer psychological force. I do not think there was much love in it.

On the stage there was trouble too. Mr. Pinza is a singing actor of great distinction, one of the greatest. He is not at his best in low comedy. Ever since Mr. Baccaloni joined the company, Pinza seems to think he has to play broadly. This is a mistake. Broad work in the "buffa" tradition is Baccaloni's gift and technique. Pinza stands out best against this sort of thing when he imitates it in no way. Neither his face nor his figure lends itself to horseplay in the way that Baccaloni's do. Both lend themselves to serious characterization far better. He gains nothing by sacrificing his own superior qualities in order to emulate the unmatchable performance of his rival in a lower genre. Yesterday he was made up as a Irish comedian from a 1910 burlesque house. He didn't even try to act; he only waved his arms and walked back and forth as if he were nervous about something. His language revealed itself in occasional brief phrases to be English. The rest of the time there was no way of knowing what it was.

The chorus sang nicely, as always, and looked cheerful, as always. The ballet cavorted with enthusiasm four separate times. Arch peasant antics seemed to be the dominant note. Everybody was pretty arch, in fact, even Novotna and Kullman. Mr. Laufkoetter played and sang the stuttering suitor for every occasion the rôle offers of banal laugh-pulling, and it offers a lot. He was more at ease, however, than most of the others, more calmly in command of what he was doing.

What he was doing, what everybody was doing, was trying to put some life into a beautiful and melodious score that practically speaking, has no libretto at all. Its meager little plot could have been resolved in half an hour. It isn't really about anything at all except how cute Bohemian peasants are. I do not know how "The Bartered Bride" could be made credible on a stage. Playing it as peasant-art buffoonery does not seem to me sufficient. The music is more tender than that, more bright, more brilliant, more unexpected.

The English version used was full of bromides. Madame Novotna's diction was magnificently clear. Everybody sang well. I've an idea the production might be less aggravating heard over the radio some Saturday afternoon than it was in yesterday's nervous run - around visualization. But the work is full of sweet, good music; and Mr. Walter, in spite of difficulties, made it sound like the almost profound music that it really is.

Photograph of Jarmila Novotna as Marenka in the Bartered Bride by Josef Heinrich.

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