The earliest material used in the opera is the orchestral introduction to the opening chorus, borrowed from the piano composition "Wedding Scenes" of 1848. The exhilarating overture, the themes of which reappear in the finale of Act II, was performed as early as November 18, 1863. Early versions of the work did not feature the dances and some of the arias and choruses for which it is so beloved today. Spoken dialogue was employed through the first three versions.
In April 1870, Eduard Nápravník (conductor) and Josef Paleček (singer), Czechs performing The Bartered Bride at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia, urged Smetana to compose music and sung recitatives to replace the spoken dialogue. The final version of the opera, finished the same year, is considered the "definitive version", and is the one performed today.
|Original||1863–66||2 Acts, spoken dialogue||No dances|
|2nd Version||1869||2 Acts, spoken dialogue||Polka, Inn Scene & "Beer Chorus", Mařenka's aria "That dream of love" added|
|3rd Version||1869||3 Acts, spoken dialogue||Inn Scene now Act 2, Furiant and Skočná (Dance of the Comedians) added|
|Definitive||1869–70||3 Acts, sung recitatives||Spoken dialogue replaced|
|Original||30 May, 1866||Provisional Theatre|
|2nd Version||29 Jan, 1869|
|3rd Version||3 Jun, 1869||New Town Theatre|
|Definitive||25 Sep, 1870||Provisional Theatre|
Thanks to efforts of Princess de Metternich, The Bartered Bride was produced in Vienna in 1892, to considerable popular acclaim, and it became the only one of Smetana’s operas to maintain a permanent place in the repertory outside of the Czech homeland.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 1866|
(Conductor: - )
|Krušina (Kruschina), a farmer||baritone|
|Ludmila (Kathinka), his wife||mezzo-soprano|
|Mařenka (Marie), their daughter||soprano|
|Mícha (Micha), a farmer||bass|
|Háta (Agnes), his wife||contralto|
|Vašek (Wenzel), their son||tenor|
|Jeník (Hans), Micha's son from a prior marriage||tenor|
|Kecal (Kezal), a marriage broker||bass|
|Principál komediantů (Springer), Principal of the comedians||tenor|
|Esmeralda (Esmeralda), a comedienne, dancer||soprano|
|Indián (Muff), the Indian, a comedian||bass|
|Two boys, villagers, chorus, silent roles|
Note: German versions of the characters in brackets are included due to the prevalence of German productions of the opera, a result of the difficulties singers have in adapting to the Czech libretto.
Mařenka and Jeník want to marry. However, Mařenka’s father, Krušina, has other ideas. He wants Mařenka to marry a boy she has never met, Vašek, the son of Micha, who is a wealthy landowner. The marriage-broker Kecal is hired to broker the marriage between Mařenka and Vašek. Kecal is made aware of the relationship between Mařenka and Jeník, and becomes determined to break them up in order to facilitate the marriage of Mařenka with Vašek.
Mařenka and Vašek meet each other by accident, and while Mařenka works out who Vašek is, Vašek, on the other hand, is too much of a simpleton to realize who she is, and Mařenka starts painting a picture of Vašek’s intended bride as a woman who would make his life a total misery if he should marry her. This turns Vašek off the idea of marrying his intended wife, and also makes him interested in this girl who obviously has his best interests at heart. Meanwhile, Kecal starts his campaign to pay off Jeník, so that Jeník will renounce his right to marry Mařenka. Kecal eventually reaches a price which Jeník finds agreeable, and Jeník agrees to sell the rights to his fiancée for 300 guilders. Jeník also specifies that this is on condition that Mařenka marries Mícha’s son. Since Kecal intends Mařenka to marry Vašek, so that he can get his money, he readily agrees. As soon as the contract is signed, the entire town repudiates Jeník.
A travelling circus comes to town, and Vašek becomes entranced with the gypsy, Esmeralda. There is some trouble with one of the acts, and Vašek is persuaded to assist the circus. Mařenka is angry with Jeník for what he has done, and she angrily turns her back on him and agrees to marry Vašek. When both sets of parents meet Mařenka, the appearance of Jeník at the meeting results in the revelation that Jeník is the long-lost son of Mícha from his first marriage, and that Jeník had been hounded out of house and home by his stepmother, Háta (who is also Vašek’s mother). As a result of this revelation, the terms of the contract between Kecal and Jeník, whereby Jeník gave her up (on condition that Mařenka should marry the son of Mícha), allows Mařenka to marry either Jeník or Vašek. Mařenka chooses Jeník, and Kecal is left with the embarrassment of having paid Jeník 300 guilders in order for Jeník to give up the right to marry Mařenka, to Jeník, himself. At this time, a frightened child rushes in and exclaims that a bear has escaped from the circus. As everybody cowers, the bear wanders in and pulls off its head, revealing that it was just the immature Vašek disguised in a bear costume for the circus. Embarrassed, Háta drags Vašek off and the parents and the villagers congratulate the happy couple.
Prodaná nevěsta (Czech)
Die verkaufte Braut (German)
The Bartered Bride (English)