Bedřich Smetana: The Bartered Bride Overture
The Bartered Bride is a comic opera that was composed between 1863-1866. The music was composed by Bedřich Smetana, with the libretto by Karel Sabina. The opera gave its first performance at the Provisional Theatre in May 1866. The opera is set in the countryside and tells the story of true love prevailing in a community.
Although not immediately successful, the opera was revised a number of times before eventually becoming a worldwide success. The famous overture is more often than not played as a standalone concert piece, with its irresistible charm making it a perfect concert opener.
Unusually, the overture for The Bartered Bride was composed before most of the other music in the opera. However, there are some links with the music from the finale of Act II and the overture. There is a thrust of triumphant sound before the practically fizzing strings playing in glorious unison. There is a real buzz of excitement throughout this overture, especially at the start.
The dance melody is scherzo-like, with the strings playing vigorous syncopated themes. There are high spirits running throughout the overture, even in the really quiet sections, which still have a buzz about them. Smetana’s bold orchestrations show richness with the orchestra, as well as showcasing certain sections. There is a folk-like element to the melody, which is quintessential Smetana as he often liked to use folk melodies as the basis of his music.
The lyrical sections are picturesque and are rich in textures and colours from around the orchestra. The pace is fast throughout which keeps anticipation and excitement high. A reprise of the opening material is heard near the end of the overture, with the intensity growing until the final heroic burst of sound leads to the final few tutti chords.
This joyous overture from The Bartered Bride is at the heart of what comic opera is all about: drama, excitement and bold character. Smetana’s orchestrations bring this work to life, making it one of the most exciting overtures ever composed.
Ⓒ Alex Burns