OP3288. THE BARTERED BRIDE (in English), Live Performance, 2 Dec., 1978, w. Levine Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Teresa Stratas, Nicolai Gedda, Jon Vickers, Martti Talvela, etc. [Truly a departure from the Met's norm offering us this exquisite rarity!] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-673.
“This should not be compared with the best Czech versions of this opera, as the music naturally fits the language in a way that doesn’t quite work in an English translation. The one used here is probably as good as a translation can be, however, and the singers’ diction is quite clear. The only English alternative I know of is Charles Mackerras’ on Chandos, which is very good. This one from the Met in 1978, on the other hand, is spectacular.
In FANFARE 34:5 James North wrote brilliantly about the video of this performance, issued as part of a package celebrating James Levine’s years at the Met. All I can do is agree with his enthusiasm. Although here we only get the audio, listening to it is a vital, engaging experience because of brilliant conducting and singing throughout. Levine is simply amazing in the way he shapes the music, infusing the rhythms with life and vigor while also molding expansive lyrical lines and generous phrases. There is not one second of flagging energy from the overture to the final curtain.
Teresa Stratas is at her best, showing a lovely lyrical soprano instrument to which she adds color and inflective emphasis that brings Marenka to life. Nicolai Gedda, more than two decades into his Met career, sings very well and with nuance and tenderness. The surprise is the unlikely performance as the stuttering, childish, often comical Vasek by Jon Vickers. He is fully invested in the antics that are central to the role, and when beautiful singing is called for, he delivers. The duet with Stratas is glorious and brings down the house. Even more of a surprise is the thunderous bass of Martti Talvela as the marriage broker Kecal. At times Talvela is called upon to be a comedian, at other times the villain, and he covers the dramatic range magnificently while pouring out glorious sound. That his English is the least idiomatic even seems fitting for the role.
The chorus and orchestra are superb both in technical execution and in delivering the full spirit of this magnificent comic opera. The wildly enthusiastic audience response serves as a confirmation of my reaction as well as North’s. The smaller roles are all very well done. St. Laurent Studio’s transfer is up to its usual very high standard, giving us good, clean broadcast stereo. As usual, there are no notes but full cast list and documentation. St. Laurent Studio releases are available at Norbeck, Peters & Ford www.norpete.com).”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“The Boston critic Richard Dyer suggested that Vickers sang Vasek just for fun. ‘There wasn’t really anything for him in it, but it was enjoyable. It wasn’t a character at all, but it was Vickers having fun, which is why you went to see it’. But Vickers said of Vasek, ‘I’m going to make you weep for him to bring out the man’s simple humanity’….Vickers himself had mixed feelings about the role, but this was one of the few in which he had an opportunity to display humor….humor, like joy, was rare for him onstage.”
- Jeannie Williams, A HERO’S LIFE, pp.233-34
Mr. Gedda made his United States debut in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met debut, in the same role later that year, under the baton of Jean Morel, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES: 'His carriage is tall and straight and his movement buoyant. It is credible that he will attract Marguerite. Even more impressive than his appearance is the intelligence of his singing'."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 2017
"The cast for the revival of THE BARTERED BRIDE is a strong one. In what is unusually luxuriant casting, two leading tenors, Jon Vickers and Nicolai Gedda, are heard as Vasek and Jenik. Smetana's is one of the finest comedy operas, and if played with the right feeling, has no precise parallel."
- Paul Hume, THE WASHINGTON POST, 25 Feb., 1979
“Teresa Stratas is the most ‘in the moment’ opera singer I have ever seen: no other artist in my experience sang with her passion for truth, her courage and her integrity. Her commitment was unswerving, her instinct impeccable, and her craft - her sheer know-how on a stage - was prodigious. The details of a Stratas performance were indelible; Stratas was the most vulnerable of singers - Nothing stood between Stratas and her music, which she served with extraordinary force.
The first OPERA NEWS interview with Stratas ran in the issue of December 12, 1959, on the occasion of her Texaco broadcast debut, as the actress Poussette in Manon - an event that followed the twenty-one-year-old soprano’s Met debut, in the same role, by less than two months. That interview, by Gerald Fitzgerald, told of her beginnings in Canada….The Met kept Stratas extremely busy - more than a quarter of the 384 performances in her twenty-five-season Met career were sung during her first two seasons with the company, when she was used chiefly in comprimario roles. Her first leading parts at the Met, as Liù (1961) and Mimì (1962), confirmed that Stratas was an artist of rare intelligence and sensitivity, and Met general manager Rudolf Bing gave his rising star increasingly important assignments, among them Sardula in the U.S. premiere of Menotti’s LAST SAVAGE (1964), Lisa in THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1965), the last new production in the Old Met on Thirty-Ninth Street, and Gretel in the first performances of the beloved Merrill-O’Hearn staging of Humperdinck’s opera (1967).
In a 1980 OPERA NEWS interview with Robert Jacobson, Stratas reflected on her responsibility as an artist: ‘I wonder if I have received a gift or a curse. I like to feel it’s a gift and sense the responsibility for it strongly - I feel I was chosen to develop a gift and convey it. If I touch some one person in an evening and enrich them and bring them happiness, then I have accomplished what I was put here to do’. As one who was lucky enough to see Stratas in some of her greatest roles, I will always be grateful to have shared that gift; those moments in the presence of her artistry will be with me forever.”
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, May 2015
“Martti Talvela, a Finnish bass who appeared regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and was the director-designate of the Finnish National Opera, was most highly regarded in the Russian operatic repertory, and was considered a peerless interpreter of the title role in Modest Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV, which he sang many times at the Metropolitan Opera. He also enjoyed considerable success as Dosifei in the Met's production of Mussorgsky's KHOVANSHCHINA.
His physical stature made him a natural for the mythical roles that were his specialty. He stood 6 feet 7 inches tall, and weighed close to 300 pounds. He became interested in opera after hearing a performance by the Russian bass Ivan Petrov, as Boris.
In January 1960, he won first prize in a lieder competition in Helsinki, and went to Stockholm to continue his studies with Carl Martin Ohmann. The following year he made his debut, as Sparafucile in Verdi's RIGOLETTO, at the Swedish National Opera.
Wieland Wagner, the composer's grandson and a noted stage director, heard one of Mr. Talvela's early performances and invited him to appear at Bayreuth in 1962. In 1963, he made his debut with the Deutsche Oper, in Berlin, and toured Japan with that company as Seneca in Monteverdi's INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA. By 1965, he had made debuts at La Scala, in Milan, and at the Vienna State Opera, and was performing regularly at Bayreuth and Salzburg. Mr. Talvela made his American debut with a recital at Hunter College in 1968, and with performances at the Metropolitan Opera that same year.
In discussing his work, Mr. Talvela often spoke in passionate, mystical terms. ‘Singing is, for me, a combination of notes and visions’, he told a NEW YORK TIMES interviewer. ‘I must see pictures when I sing, and when I do not have those pictures in my mind, I am uncomfortable. Singing must be a passion, like the praying of the holy man, who is always thinking about how he can improve his prayers to make the message clearer. I am not a holy man - not at all - but I know how it is. In singing, everything must happen in the spirit, in the soul’.''
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 July, 1989