bartered bride

The Bartered Bride

The Bartered Bride (Prodaná nevěsta, The Sold Fiancée) is the second opera, a comedy in three acts, by Bedřich Smetana. The Czech libretto was written by Karel Sabina, who had also written the libretto for Brandenburgers in Bohemia. Composed in 1863–1870, the work was originally envisioned as an operetta, a light opera with spoken dialogue in place of sung recitatives, and was first performed in this form in 1866 in Prague. The "definitive" version of the work, now a comic opera, was finished in 1870 and was performed the same year. The opera's overture and three dances are often performed separately as part of the orchestral repertoire.

Composition history

The form of The Bartered Bride evolved over a period of about 7 years. Smetana was eager to write a lighter musical drama after Brandenburgers in Bohemia, and even composed the overture before receiving the libretto from Sabina. He continued to make changes to the opera as new inspiration came to him after seeing the work on stage.

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.

Version Composed Form Note

Original 186366 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 186970 3 Acts, sung recitatives Spoken dialogue replaced

Performance history

Version Premiere Conductor Opera house

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.


Act I

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.

Act II

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.

Principal arias and numbers

Overture (Orchestra)
Act 1
Chorus: "Let us rejoice" (People)
Aria: "Were I ever to learn that you had ceased to care" (Mařenka)
Trio: "As I'm saying, my dear fellow" (Kecal, Krušina, Ludmila)
Dance: Polka (Orchestra, Chorus)
Act 2
Chorus: "Beer is no doubt a gift from heaven" (People, Jenik, Kecal)
Dance: Furiant (Orchestra)
Aria: "Ma-ma-ma-ma, so dear" (Vašek)
Scene: Finale "Come people" (Kecal, Jenik, People)
Act 3
Dance: Skočná, Dance of the Comedians (Orchestra)
Aria: "Ah, love’s sweet dream" (Mařenka)



Prodaná nevěsta (Czech)

  • 1933, Otakar Ostrčil (conductor), Chorus and Orchestra of the Prague National Opera Company; Vladimír Tomš (Jeník), Ada Nordenová (Mařenka), Jaroslav Gleich (Vašek), Emil Pollert (Kecal), Jan Konstantin, Marie Pixová, Zdeněk Otava, Marta Krásová, Karel Hruška, Otta Horáková, Václav Marek
  • 1947, Karel Ančerl (conductor), Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Beno Blachut (Jeník), Ludmila Červinková (Mařenka), Rudolf Vonášek (Vašek), Karel Kalas (Kecal), Ladislav Mráz, Jarmila Palivcová, Josef Heriban, Věra Krilová, Bohumír Vich, Jarmila Pechová, Jan Soumar
  • 1959, Zdeněk Chalabala (conductor), Chorus and Orchestra of the Prague National Theatre; Ivo Žídek (Jeník), Drahomíra Tikalová (Mařenka), Oldřich Kovář (Vašek), Eduard Haken (Kecal), Jaroslav Horáček, Václav Bednář, Jaroslava Dobrá, Štěpánka Štěpánová, Rudolf Vonásek, Jarmila Pechová, Jiří Joran
  • 1981, Zdeněk Košler (conductor), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus; Peter Dvorský (Jeník), Gabriela Beňačková (Mařenka), Miroslav Kopp (Vašek), Richard Novak (Kecal), Jindřich Jindrák, Marie Veselá, Jaroslav Horáček, Marie Mrázová, Alfréd Hampel, Jana Jonášová, Karel Hanuš, Jaroslav Stůj, Roman Liška

Die verkaufte Braut (German)

  • 1939, Thomas Beecham (conductor), London Philharmonic Orchestra; Hilde Konetzni, Richard Tauber, Heinrich Tessmer, Marko Rothmüller, Arnold Matters, Gerhard Hinze, Stella Andreva, Sabine Kalter, Mary Jarrod, Graham Clifford
  • 1955, Wilhelm Schüchter (conductor), Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Chor des Landestheater Hannover; Hanns-Heinz Nissen, Christa Ludwig, Erna Berger, Theodor Schlott, Marga Höffgen, Rudolf Schock, Gottlob Frick
  • 1962, Rudolf Kempe (conductor), Bamberger Symphoniker, RIAS-Kammerchor; Marcel Cordes, Nada Puttar, Pilar Lorengar, Ivan Sardi, Sieglinde Wagner, Karl-Ernst Mercker, Fritz Wunderlich, Gottlob Frick, Ernst Krukowski, Gertrud Freedmann, Walter Stoll
  • 1962, Otmar Suitner (conductor), Staatskapelle Dresden, Chor der Staatsoper Dresden; Günther Leib, Annelies Burmeister, Anny Schlemm, Fred Teschler, Ruth Lange, Harald Neukirch, Rolf Apreck, Theo Adam, Eleonore Elstermann, Johannes Kemter, Wilfried Schaal
  • 1975, Jaroslav Krombholc (conductor), Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Walter Berry, René Kollo, Teresa Stratas, Heinz Zednik, Jörn Wilsing, Margarethe Bence, Alexander Malta, Gudrun Wewezow, Karl Dönch, Janet Perry, Theodor Nicolai

The Bartered Bride (English)

  • 2004, Charles Mackerras (conductor), Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Opera Chorus; Neal Davies, Yvonne Howard, Susan Gritton, Geoffrey Moses, Diana Montague, Timothy Robinson, Paul Charles, Peter Rose, Robin Leggate, Yvette Bonner, Kit Hesketh-Harvey


A German film of the opera was made in 1932 by Max Ophüls, starring Jarmila Novotna. It was the first film version of any opera to use truly cinematic techniques. Arturo Toscanini considered conducting the orchestra on the soundtrack, but withdrew from the project.



  • Holzknecht, V. (1985), album notes from the 1959 recording by Chalabala and the Prague National Theatre, Supraphon CD SU 0040-2 612
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, by John Warrack and Ewan West (1992), 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5

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