ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

22/09/2012 - 29/09/2012

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

13/10/2012 - 20/10/2012

Production Details

When the circus comes to… the opera  

“With a famous overture that promises an even madder day than The Marriage of Figaro – and delivers on that promise – our Bartered Bride is apolitical comedy featuring polkas, fights, excessive amounts of Czech beer,a brilliant anti-Communist circus and a dancing Russian bear.”  – Daniel Slater, Director

The Bartered Bride is no ordinary opera. Half way through, it features a highly technical circus act.

The NBR New Zealand Opera has lined up a top cast of principal singers for its production of The Bartered Bride – New Zealanders Anna Leese, Conal Coad, Andrew Glover, Patricia Wright, Richard Green and Helen Medlyn are joined by Englishman Peter Wedd and Australians Taryn Fiebig and John Antoniou.

“But,” as Aidan Lang, General Director of the company says, “while it’s true that we have lined up a great cast, and it’s true that opera singers have to be great actors as well as great singers, expecting them to be circus performers as well is perhaps pushing the skill set a little too far.

“The circus act in this opera is magnificent,” Lang says. “Consequently, a troupe of performers with high end skills have been contracted to complement our singers and give the audience a thrilling experience.” Working alongside British choreographer Tim Claydon, they are creating an explosion of rapid fire action.

Dancing also features strongly in The Bartered Bride. Opera singers are frequently called upon to dance, and in this opera, Claydon will be taking the singers through their paces, teaching them traditional Bohemian dances such as the polka and furiant and the Slavic folk-dance, the Skočná.

“This production of The Bartered Bride has something for everyone,” Lang says. “It’s an opera for all the family – it’s warm and funny, but with a bite to it; it’s fast-moving and entertaining, but it will make you think.”

The Bartered Bride opens in Auckland on Saturday 22 September and Wellington on Saturday 13 October. It is sung in English.


Auckland – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Sat 22 Sep (7.30pm), Tue 25 Sep (6.30pm), Thu 27 Sep (7.30pm), Sat 29 Sep (7.30pm)

Wellington – St James Theatre
Sat 13 Oct (7.30pm), Tue 16 Oct (6pm), Thu 18 Oct (7.30pm), Sat 20 Oct (7.30pm)

Single Tickets: $49.50 to $189.50.
Concessions available for benefactors, senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: NZ Opera Box Office, Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:

Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842) or

Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or

Associate Director/Choreographer:  TIM CLAYDON
Production Designer:  ROBERT INNES HOPKINS
Lighting Designer:  SIMON MILLS

Mařenka:  ANNA LEESE
Esmeralda:  TARYN FIEBIG

Accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the Vector Wellington Orchestra 

With the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus 

Brilliant Bartered Bride redeems shortcomings of its Cold War setting

Review by Lindis Taylor 18th Oct 2012

New Zealand Opera continues to explore every year or so, as much as it safely can, slightly unfamiliar operas. Their record so far has been unfaltering, and this splendid outing of something a bit on the fringe has maintained the high score. An opera has been revealed that many will have heard of but few expected to see here. This production has put it into the mainstream, into the class of comic operas with Rossini and Donizetti, Strauss and Offenbach or G & S. The music has character, wit and energy, and the story is no less probable than the average comic opera – or theatrical comedy for that matter. [More


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Love amid politics and circus

Review by Sharon Talbot 15th Oct 2012

Boy meets girl, and they fall in love. However, her parents want her to marry a rich man’s son. All are in despair. But wait! The boy turns out to be the rich man’s long-lost heir, so it all ends happily after all. Heard this story before somewhere?!

Indeed you have, but perhaps not set in 1972 Czechoslovakia just after the failed ‘Prague Spring’ revolt. NBR New Zealand Opera’s production of The Bartered Bride proves that a standard rom-com plot plus nationalistic music need not make a run-of-the-mill show. 

Czech composer Smetana’s ‘folk opera’ has been a favourite of Czech and Slovak people since it was written in the 1860s to promote their liberation from the failing Austro-Hungarian Empire. By updating the oppressive regime to Soviet Russia, British director Daniel Slater brings a refreshingly sharp edge to what could otherwise be a somewhat sickly sweet brew.  

First created in 1998 for Britain’s Opera North, it is clear from the opening chorus scene why this inspired production has been acclaimed and regularly recreated. Instead of a quaint village festival, we have a jingoistic Stalinist celebration watched over by Party officials. The bride Mařenka is no sweet village girl in lace headdress and pert corset. Instead she’s a feisty, denim-clad teenager who hits as hard as she falls in love. When the circus comes to town, it’s a hotbed of anti-Soviet liberationists. 

Communist Czechoslovakia is not the most glamorous of settings, so the costumes are appropriately dowdy. (I do hope that the female chorus singers get something more flattering to wear in next year’s NZO productions – they’ve had a run of rags!) The only taste of traditional ‘folk’ costume we get is provided by exhibition dancers at the festival.

However, detailed directing and clever grading of costuming for the different ranks of female village society adds an entertainment of its own. The ordinary peasants, including the debt-ridden mother-of-the-bride Ludmila, wear old-fashioned skirts, shawls and sensible shoes. The mayoress has an eye-catching orange frock, and some seen-better-times ladies manage flowery hats and worn tweed suits. Our heroine stands out in her trendy jeans, along with a few younger men in flares and hideous 70s hair. The rich man’s wife (and wicked stepmother) Hâta, in heels and pearls, is the only one with pretensions to elegance.

Colour and exuberance are provided by the much-promoted circus performers, with punk hair and clashing colours to suit their antics. The villagers do have one standout piece in their wardrobe – bright blue blazers for their festival choir performance. Presumably these show their adherence to the Party, but it also gives them an air of bussed-in attendees at a Bucklands-style holiday camp – the “you vill have fun” effect!

Clear delineation of chorus and circus performers’ characters and relationships is proof of excellent directing design by Slater, as well as sensitive realisation by Kiwi assistant director Jacqueline Coats. The thoughtful choreography by associate director Tim Claydon enhances the main action but never distracts from it, as is right.

The deceptively simple set is a rustic podium within a wooden fence, plus strings of flags and light bulbs for festive effects. Basic wooden tables and chairs are the only extras needed for this ideal touring set, which serves for both village square and local inn. When it is surrounded by a cyclorama lit with blue sky and fluffy clouds, we are instantly transported to a backwater country village without distracting detail.

The lead characters are equally well realised and (mostly) excellently cast.

The bride Mařenka is sung by Napier-born soprano Anna Leese, who is one of our fastest-rising young opera stars. She’s ideal for the feisty ’70s version of Mařenka, playing her with a verve and teenage fury that gives personality to an otherwise fairly standard heroine. While her music is not generally memorable, Leese makes the most of it, especially her Act III lament aria that suits her gloriously rich lyric voice.

Her boyfriend Jeník is played by British tenor Peter Wedd. Physically he is a match for Leese and makes an ardent lover. His singing overall is musical, although a sometimes covered tone in his arias is not as appealing as his recitative (sung speech) passages. His performance of the recits in English is a revelation – beautifully legato, and we can understand every word!

Kecal is the conniving marriage broker who doubles as village mayor in this production. Kiwi favourite Conal Coad has made pompous comic roles with patter songs like this his specialty. He has the right stage presence and comic timing. Conal manages his very many English words better than most, although some of his low notes were lacking tone in this performance.   

Vašek is the shy younger son of the rich man to whom Mařenka is betrothed by Kecal’s contract. With its stuttering arias and foolish behaviour, this role could be overplayed as a clown. Instead, Taupo-born tenor Andrew Glover immediately grabs the audience’s sympathy from his first entrance with his yearning naivety, appealingly gawky presence and sweet singing. Glover’s other life as a professional actor and trained mime shows in his superb physical comedy – merely a quiver of his knee has the audience collapsing with laughter. He drew more genuine laughs than anyone else and the biggest cheer during the bows. 

Of the smaller roles, Ludmila, the mother of the bride, is beautifully played by one of NZ’s premier sopranos, Patricia Wright. Ludmila’s torn, ineffectual sympathy for her daughter and divided loyalty to her husband are clear in Wright’s every gesture and posture. But Ludmila’s few solo lines mean we hear far too little of Wright’s lovely voice.

Krušina, the father of the bride, is Australian baritone John Antoniou. His thin frame, cringing sycophancy and all-round acting ability convinces us he is poor enough to sell his daughter. However, his voice is undistinguished, so his casting is a little puzzling given that there are several Kiwi baritones who could do the role very well.

Hâta is the contractual groom’s mother and eventual groom’s stepmother, and the reason Jeník ran away from home. She is brought to us by versatile New Zealand mezzo Helen Medlyn, who does a great line in wicked stepmothers and witches. While her voice does not always project fully, her physical presence most definitely does. From her first svelte appearance looking down her nose at the villagers, we instantly understand why Vašek is constantly worrying about doing anything his mother wouldn’t like!

Micha, the rich father from the city, is performed by Kiwi Richard Green. His deep bass suits the role, although his tuning is sometimes uncertain. His tall frame makes him convincing as Glover’s father, and his arrogant posture clearly proclaims his superior status.

Esmeralda, the circus ballet dancer, is stunningly performed by Australian soprano Taryn Fiebig. When we saw her en pointe, we thought she must be a dancer double and wondered how the swop would be handled. But then the same woman sang brilliantly and we were overwhelmed with admiration. Please let us hear more of her sparkling voice!

The circus Ringmaster is played by NZ theatre stalwart Jeff Kingsford-Brown, who is currently artistic director of Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North. This is his opera debut, as musicals have been his forte until now, and most accomplished he is. As with Glover, Kingsford-Brown’s acting credentials show clearly in his charismatic and energetic performance. His speaking and singing voice has the cut and proclamatory tone required for this role. The only time the English translation really adds value is in his Ringmaster’s “roll-up” speech. Then we clearly hear a series of ironic, rebel-rousing jokes about puppet governments, Brezhnev’s dainty footwork and Stalin’s delicate wit.

The seven (or eight!) circus performers live up to their publicity, and their turns are also nicely balanced between obvious skill and convincingly wobbly provincialism. Highlights are the handstand on five haphazardly stacked chairs and the juggler balancing on a plank over a rolling barrel.

The Chapman Tripp Chorus (Wellington) acts and sings superbly. They are fortunate that their vigorous polka and furient (another dance style) choruses comprise much of the best music in the opera (and are often performed as separate concert pieces). Each chorus member has their own character and family, which makes their scenes some of the best in this production. The five (unnamed) children add energy, and the two with lines are clearly heard. 

Several non-singing cameos are so good that they must be acknowledged. Only Bianca Andrew could make a mechanic’s dungarees glamorous! Stuart Coats makes a great drunk, Kate Lineham gives us a wonderfully fussy Party devotee, and Kieran Raynor is chillingly precise as the watcher from Moscow (one of Slater’s most inspired innovations). It is rather curious that none of the company’s resident or emerging artists sing solos in this production. 

The Vector Wellington Orchestra starts off the performance in fine style with the effervescent overture, and supports the singers vigorously throughout. Both they and the singers are lucky to have a conductor with this music bred into his bones – Oliver von Dohnányi is a native-born Slovak who has conducted this opera in the Prague National Theatre, which Smetana helped found. 

My biggest criticism of this production has to be the English text. It’s a given that the original text is fairly uninspiring to start with, and it sounds lame in English. The comedy is meant to be clearer to us in English, but the best gags are visual anyway, and the wordiness of the settings and the difficulties in enunciating English diphthongs and triphthongs where they are not written in negate much of this benefit – we had to resort to the surtitles often. NZO’s argument is that nationalist opera is meant to be sung in the vernacular, which is why it was one of the first operas in Czech. And this is precisely the point – it was written to be sung in Czech and just sounds better with those sonorities!

That aside, this production is clever programming by NZO. As a light comic opera, The Bartered Bride is a complete contrast to the dark glamour and tragedy of the company’s other production this year, Verdi’s Rigoletto, and so will appeal to a different audience.

If you like musicals or Gilbert and Sullivan’s light operas, and/or you know a young person who might, bring them along to this opera – it has all the fun of the circus and a happy love story, with a little political history thrown in for good measure. All in all, it’s a jolly good show.


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Comic opera suffers in translation

Review by John Button 15th Oct 2012

Before curtain up, I had some concerns about this production of Smetana’s popular comic opera. I had not enjoyed the Chandos recording of the opera in English, and I did wonder if this, of all operas, should be updated from its traditional folk setting.

I know that German was Bedrich Smetana’s first language, yet The Bartered Bride in German doesn’t work: it has to be done in Czech. I accept that Czech is not easy for the performers, but we use it for Janacek, so even given director Daniel Slater’s reasons, could the charm of this popular work survive in English? 

So with these doubts, how did it all work out? [More


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Bartered then betrothed

Review by Sharu Delilkan 25th Sep 2012

The word ‘opera’ conjures images of elitism and grandeur among people who don’t frequent the art form. And if you identify with that majority, NBR NZ Opera’s version of The Bartered Bride would be a great first opera to see.

It’s easy to understand, simple storyline and of course it’s highly accessible because it’s in English. That doesn’t mean that you won’t occasionally end up glancing at the surtitles. However, it is a lot less taxing when you don’t have to yoyo between the surtitles and the stage to get comprehensive understanding of what’s happening.

Bedřich Smetana’s dream to establish a Czech national opera was realised with The Bartered Bride, his second opera. A comic look at Bohemian life, it’s a tale of true love prevailing despite the best efforts of a scheming marriage broker, a couple of social-climbing parents and a dancing bear. [More


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Sweet music, grand arias delight

Review by William Dart 24th Sep 2012

There is much to admire in Daniel Slater’s The Bartered Bride, updating Smetana’s 19th-century peasant marriage market to edgier times, a century on during the Prague Spring.

The opening chorus, lustily delivered, is an enthralling set piece, laced with delicious irony – the liberated folk celebrate freedom and happiness in regimented rows. In the middle of it all, Anna Leese’s Marenka makes a tryst with Peter Wedd’s handsome and suitably soulful Jenik.

Their romance unfolds through some of the most tuneful music you’ll hear in an opera house. Conductor Oliver von Dohnanyi and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra inspire the cast by never losing the lilt and flow. [More


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A great production with a stunning cast

Review by Tarryne Webb 23rd Sep 2012

If you’re new to opera, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride is a great first timer’s show. A light comedy sung in English, the story contains all of the well established favourite operatic themes of hidden identities, forbidden love and a meddling bass.

Kiwi soprano Anna Leese is a charming Mařenka, energetic, adorable and with a petulant streak that is great to watch. Her beautiful voice is a delight to listen to and more than compensates for her slight stiffness as an actor. So lovely though that she outshone her lover Jeník, sung by Peter Wedd. 

Andrew Glover is brilliant as the awkward stuttering Vašek, with a great voice and fluid movement that makes his bumbling character highly believable. 

The real treat for me though is watching Conal Coad as Kecal, the marriage broker, as he struts about with all the self assurance of a character who you just know is going to get his comeuppance.  Coad is hilarious, and extremely charismatic with an incredible sense of comedic timing, making it hard to watch anyone else while he is on stage. He and his glorious voice could not have been better cast.

Visually the production is striking and filled with activity. The village scenes show the chorus to great effect although the staging does feel overly busy and at times it seems there were just too many people on stage. 

The circus is outstanding. The ringmaster’s humour combined with the impressive acrobatic feats of the performers make it seem more like a magic show. There is so much going on that you didn’t really know where to look and there is constantly something you don’t see coming to catch your eye. Taryn Fiebig is lovely as Esmeralda and it seemed a pity that the role is so small.

As if there isn’t enough talent on the stage, the appearance by Helen Medlyn as Háta is thrilling. It is always wonderful to watch her perform, and this is no exception as she throws herself whole-heartedly into the role as evil stepmother with a convincing sneer and her voice that cuts beautifully over the orchestra, standing out in every ensemble. 

Over all a great production and with such a stunning, and mostly local cast it is certainly a show worth seeing. 


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