REVIEW: Bartered Bride, Opera North, Theatre Royal Newcastle

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BEDRICH Smetana wrote this comic opera in the 1860s and it is a celebration of 19th century Czechoslovakian music, its national costumes and the rural Czech psyche.

Its light and colourful feel has more in common with Gilbert and Sullivan and Mozart than the strained tones of Wagner, so staging it in 1972 Stalinist Czechoslovakia felt strange and the question of arranged marriages to satisfy family ambitions was a bit out of context.

Nevertheless, despite the polyester jackets and dreadful hairstyles, the piece still stands as a top opera.

Set on Independence Day in a generic Bohemian village, the populace are practicing their national songs when we are introduced to Marenka (Kate Valentine) and Jeník (Brenden Gunnell), whose apparent vestige of a cold was no impediment to excellent performances from both the young lovers.

Sung in English and linked by the spoken word we find out Marenka has been promised to Vašek (Nicholas Watts), the stuttering son of a couple in whose debt her father has fallen.

Jenik plans to win Marenka back. His background – orphaned at 10 - becomes crucial to the convoluted but enjoyable plot.

We’re in rom-com territory here; boy falls in love with girl, they fall out and then there is the big climax where they get back together.

Added to the plot is a Communist Party bureaucrat Kecal (James Creswell), a fixer, who for some reason gets involved in the mix. What feels like a character ploy in this production is more than made up for by Creswell whose bass voice is wonderful.

Coming in at two hours 25 minutes Smetana’s work is hugely entertaining and hits the mark throughout.

•The Opera North season continues in Newcastle tomorrow with The Coronation of Poppea.