We caught up with conductor Anthony Kraus to find out why he thinks The Bartered Bride is such a unique and enjoyable piece.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Opera North - how long have you worked in the music department?
Before coming to Opera North I was based in London, and worked with a variety of companies including English Touring Opera and English National Opera. This is now my 12th year at Opera North – I have been the Chorus Master, acting Head of Music and now I am the Assistant Head of Music. My duties here include conducting performances, assisting conductors, coaching singers and playing the piano for all types of rehearsals, whether with a single singer or a full piano dress rehearsal. I also have administrative responsibilities which are mainly to do with the day to day running of the music department, helping to organise the weekly schedule, and engaging guest music staff to work on productions here.
This is your first Opera North production as conductor - how was the rehearsal process?
Rehearsals have been pretty smooth, by and large. It’s slightly strange being the conductor this time instead of the assistant – the buck stops with me, musically speaking, so it’s a different kind of pressure. I’ve particularly enjoyed working with the principal singers and exploring the interpretations of their roles; being able to work with our orchestra and really get under the skin of this piece has been an enormous privilege.
The Bartered Bride is one of the first Czech 'national' operas - is this reflected in the music?
Absolutely, as a lot of the music is based on Bohemian dance rhythms. Smetana composed three specific dances for the opera - a polka (lively dance of Bohemian origin), a rapid and fiery Bohemian dance called a furiant, and a galop, which is known as the Dance of the Comedians (audio below via Spotify). In addition to that, there are dance rhythms in many other parts of the opera. In Act Three, when the hero and heroine, Mařenka and Jenik, have an argument, the music resembles a czárdás (Hungarian folk dance) which starts slow and gets faster and faster.
If audiences enjoy the music of The Bartered Bride, are there any other pieces that you would recommend?
Smetana wrote several other operas, none of which is especially well known in this country. If people enjoy this music then perhaps try his symphonic cycle Ma Vlást (My Homeland), starting with the most popular movement Vltava – this piece depicts the journey of the river Moldau from its origins to its arrival in Prague. If the dances from The Bartered Bride appeal, then Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances would be a good next step – originally written for piano duet, he later orchestrated them into a wonderfully vivid set of traditional dances. Listen to Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No.1 below via Spotify.
What do you think audience members will especially enjoy about this production?
Apart from a story where there are characters one can root for, and a central manipulative character out for his own interests, this is a wonderfully energetic show – the chorus all have individual characters (one of director Danny Slater’s trademarks) and the circus in the third act is truly spectacular. There are also beautiful melodies and vigorous dances - the music carries all this along at a breathtaking pace at times.
Image above: The Bartered Bride in rehearsal with Peter Savidge as Krušina, Ann Taylor as Ludmilla, Kate Valentine as Mařenka and the Chorus of Opera North. Photo credit: Jonny Walton.