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The Bartered Bride review at Garsington – ‘the opera festival at the top of its game’

Brenden Gunnell and the chorus in The Bartered Bride at Garsington. Photo: Clive Barda
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The opening production of Garsington Opera’s 30th-anniversary season finds the festival at the top of its game.

The Philharmonia – one of the world’s leading orchestras – is in the pit, with conductor Jac van Steen drawing from it a rich palette of tonal colours and music-making of precision. The Garsington Opera Chorus has never sounded better.

Though there’s a valid case for performing such pieces in the shared language of the audience – especially with an anglophone cast – Smetana’s heart-warming village comedy is sung in the original Czech. All the other artistic choices seem the right ones.

Paul Curran moves the setting to an English village in the era of Elvis fans and Teddy boys. Full of acute observation, the result works brilliantly in Kevin Knight’s colourful sets.

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw brings a world-class instrument and a striking depiction of Marenka’s determination to the title role. As the boyfriend who appears to have betrayed her, Brenden Gunnell’s Jenik is vocally fearless and dramatically dynamic.

Drawing on the wide resources of his resplendent bass, Joshua Bloom’s marriage-broker Kecal offers something flawed but human rather than the usual buffo stereotype. In the potentially tricky role of Marenka’s less welcome admirer Vasek, Stuart Jackson negotiates delicately around the issue in a way that has you laughing with the character rather than at him.

The secondary roles are all impeccably performed, with a special word of praise for Paul Whelan’s stiff and unbending Tobias Mícha. Darren Royston’s choreography is finely integrated into the show, while the circus scenes provide uproarious entertainment.

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Garsington Opera’s season opener sees the festival at the top of its game