It could be said that opera is the most complete art form. It has everything – music, singing, acting, the opportunity for great costumes and scenery and lots more besides. What opera doesn’t have, in general, is many laughs and you could rarely describe them as being fun.
Well, if there was one word I could use to describe Nederlandse Reisoper’s Bruid te Koop (The Bartered Bride in English) it would . . . fun. From the moment of curtain up it was clear which way Die Verkaufte Braut (to give it its birth name) was heading. Billed as “an adult, sexy fairy tale full of humour” this brand new Dutch adaptation by director John Yost and translator Anne Lichthart of Bedřich Smetana’s 1866 rural comic opera certainly does not disappoint on that level. Out were the dirndls and folklore and in were jeans, mini-skirts and bright young things cavorting in a Technicolor urban setting.
This production was, in fact, set on a social housing complex which I suppose could be called the modern equivalent of a village. The long opening sequence transposed the original pastoral religious festival into a cityscape rave with the kids rejoicing that the winter was over, the sun was shining and consequently Rokjesdag (skirt day) had finally arrived and groping could commence. Don’t look up Rokjesdag or even Skirt Day in Wikipedia, it’s not there. The brand new libretto must have had original librettist Karel Sabina turning in his grave and wondering what microwaves and Lamborghinis were and what the process of waxing involved.
Basically the story concerns arranged marriages. In Bruid te Koop it was easy to believe that marriages had to be arranged because matrimony was portrayed as such an unpleasant institution that nobody would enter into it voluntarily. Money seemed a good enough incentive to overcome the misogyny and the male infidelities. It was all very politically incorrect but things lightened up a bit in the second half when the circus arrived in town adding the opportunity for more fun and games.
I must confess to not knowing this opera at all, so the music came as a pleasant surprise. The long overture is redolent of pastoral central Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, often reminiscent of Dvořák. There is a lot of chorus work and a lot of dancing as well as a large cast of main characters. So, this was quite an ambitious production.
The decor by Gary McCann was of the no expense spared variety and was very impressive, the circus sequence being particularly effective. There were big transformation scenes – street to house interior, street to Pechstrook café etc all of which worked flawlessly. Visually Bruid te Koop was spectacular and hard to fault.
On the whole the singing was good too. I liked the two star-struck lovers, Laetitia Gerards as Marshenka and Denzil Delaere as Jenik who were being torn apart by greedy parents and an unscrupulous marriage broker. Now, in this day and age a marriage broker on a housing estate may seem a little incongruous, unnecessary even. I suppose the nearest would be the myriad television dating programmes where couples are thrown together seemingly at random with marriage, or at the very least a bit of hanky-panky, in mind. Huub Claessens was convincing as Kezal the greedy marriage broker – although nobody seemed to have told him it was a modern dress production.
All in all Nederlandse Reisopera’s Bruid te Koop was a large scale, impressive production and succeeded in being fun and delivering the promised adult, sexy fairy tale full of humour. Michael Hasted 10th May 2022