Opera: Love among the post-war ruins

THE BARTERED BRIDE; GLYNDEBOURNE

ACT TWO of Smetana's The Bartered Bride - and a few of the local lads are rowdily contemplating the meaning of life. Beer, they conclude, makes the world go round. No, says Jenik, it's love. But his voice is drowned out by the arrival of Kecal, the marriage-broker. Money, he insists, makes the world go round. A case full of catalogues and contracts says it does. Girls for sale, deals in progress, Jenik's true love Marenka among them. Her parents need the money rather more than they need her love, it seems. There follows a furiant, the most bracing of all Czech national dances, but Nikolaus Lehnhoff, the director of Glyndebourne's first-ever staging, abandons the country dancing and resigns himself and us to the spectacle of men behaving badly. There's nothing about this everyday tale of country folk that another beer, a good shag, and money up front won't improve.

So whatever happened to Smetana's cosy old charmer? Well, you could say that his librettist Karel Sabina started the rot when he sold his nationalistic soul to the Austrians for a bag of gold (he was unmasked as an Austrian spy). Money, you see, does make the world go round. Love is for dreamers. And that's the central dichotomy in Lehnhoff's spanking new production. He drops us into the Czech hinterland at some point after its establishment as a People's Republic. Post-1948. Life is relentlessly grey, a daily grind, frustration simmering just beneath the surface. The stench of capitalism has begun filtering through. But today is a holiday, the day of the local fair and pageant. A glimmer of colour. The designer Tobias Hoheisel has imagined one of those dowdy community halls, all brown walls, bare tables and chairs, but decked out with a green garland or two and a few flowers in the national colours. Funny how the hall stage is a dead ringer for the old Glyndebourne proscenium.

And on that stage, dreams are made - albeit fleetingly. When Jenik and Marenka sing of their love, someone flies in (right on cue) a crudely painted back-drop of clouds against a bluer than blue sky. The pageant itself brings a glimpse of picture-book Bohemia - a stiffly danced polka in pristine, brightly coloured national costumes. So we see Marenka transformed from troubled girl next door to peachy-clean dream-bride. We see spectators infected by the dance spontaneously taking their partners in the audience. Reality and make-believe, the old and new worlds in parallel. It's a staggeringly simple idea, but it works. And where the two worlds collide, Lehnhoff really shows his theatrical nous. In one magical moment, Vasek (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke), the opera's much-put-upon figure of fun, is transfixed as the curtains on the tiny stage part to reveal a frozen image of his dream-girl, the trapeze artist Esmeralda, caught in flight against a midnight- blue sky, with a golden orb floating to one side of her like some mystical planet.

But no sooner has the image been fixed on the retina than the backcloth drops away and in bursts the circus troupe as they really are - a rude, rum bunch from Finchley (yes, this is a travelling English circus) who not only hail from another culture and speak in another language, but also belong to another period, it would seem. A rehearsal piano rather than the customary orchestra at this point only adds to the disorientation.

Like all the best Glyndebourne evenings, this one has a compelling sense of family, of ensemble. Solveig Kringelborn's voice is filling out nicely and she sings Marenka with great feeling and charm, if not always the long, seamless legatos that make the big notes seem more integral. Kim Begley (Jenik) goes from strength to strength with his new-found heroic Fach, and Jonathan Veira (Kecal) gives us everything we might have got from Kurt Rydl (who withdrew from the production) except the blackness and reach of those seemingly bottomless notes. The luxury casting of the parents was like a re-run of all our yesterdays with Helga Dernesch (Ludmila), Norman Bailey (Krusina), Anne Howells (Hata), and Richard Van Allan (Micha) bringing more than just wrinkles to the older generation.

Jiri Kout conducted with a Czech's innate sense of itchy feet from the overture onwards. The London Philharmonic (dashing woodwind in particularly fine fettle) articulated that with determination. Plenty of grit in the mix. Rather like the production. Bags of charm, but a bitter-sweet aftertaste, too.

Edward Seckerson

To 29 Aug (01273 813813)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?