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
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there