The Sold Bride
In three acts by FR. SMETANA.
Libretto by K. SABINA.
German text by MAX KALBECK.
Poor Smetana! Nature had put on his brow the stamp of genius, but he
never lived to see his glory. After grief and sorrow and direst need
he died in a madhouse, and now posterity heaps laurels on his grave.
The Sold Bride has been represented in Prague over 300 times, and it
begins to take possession of every noted stage in Europe.
The subject forms a simple village-idyll, without any strong contrasts,
its ethical motive lies in its representation of quaint old customs and
in the deep-rooted patriotic love; but the whole opera is literally
steeped in euphony.
The overture has its equal only in Figaro, and a perfect stream of
national airs flows through the whole.
The first chorus "See the buds open on the bush" is most original, the
national dance in the second act is full of fire and the rope dancers'
march is truly Slavonic in its quaintness.
The scene is laid in a village in Bohemia. It is Spring-Kirmess, and
everybody is gay. Only Mary, the daughter of the rich peasant
Kruschina carries a heavy heart within her, for the day has come, on
which the unknown bridegroom, chosen by her parents will claim her
hand. She loves Hans, known to her as a poor servant, who has come to
her village lately, and who is in reality her bridegroom's half
brother. He consoles her, beseeching her to cheer up and be faithful
to him, and then tells her, that he comes of wealthy people. Having
lost his mother early, his father wedded a second wife, who estranged
his heart from the poor boy so, that he had to gain his daily bread
abroad. She deeply sympathizes with him, without guessing his real
Meanwhile Mary's parents approach with the matchmaker Kezul, a
personage common in Bohemia, who has already won Kruschina's consent to
his daughter's marriage with Wenzel, son of the rich farmer Micha by a
second marriage. Mary's mother insisting that her child's will is to
be consulted before all, the father consents to let her see the
bridegroom, before she decides. Kezul, though angry at this unlooked
for obstacle, excuses the bridegroom's absence volubly, and sings his
praise loudly, at the same time touching upon the elder son's absence,
and hinting, that he may probably be dead. When Mary steps in, Kezul
wooes her in due form, but is at once repulsed by her. The young girl
owns to having given her heart to the humble servant Hans, in whom
nobody has yet recognized Micha's son. Father Kruschina angrily
asserts his promise to Kezul, cursing Wenzel's timidity, which hindered
him, from making his proposal in person. Kezul however resolves to
talk Hans over to reason.
We find him in the second act, singing and highly praising the god of
love. Afterwards the would-be bridegroom Wenzel finds himself
face to face with Mary, whom he does not know. When he tells her of
his purpose, timidly and stammeringly, she asks him, if he is not
ashamed to woo a girl, who loves another man, and who does not love him
in the least. She at last so frightens the lad, that he promises to
look out for another bride, if his mother permits it. Mary flirts with
him, until he swears never to claim Kruschina's daughter.--Meanwhile
Kezul does his best to convert Hans. He promises to provide for him
another bride, much richer than Mary, but Hans refuses. He offers him
money, first one, than two, than three hundred florins. Hans looking
incredulous, asks "For whom are you wooing my bride?" "For Micha's
son," the matchmaker replies. "Well," says Hans, "if you promise me,
that Micha's son shall have her and no other, I will sign the contract,
and I further stipulate, that Micha's father shall have no right to
reclaim the money later; he is the one to bear the whole costs of the
bargain." Kezul gladly consents and departs to fetch the witnesses,
before whom Hans once more renounces his bride in favour of Micha's
son. He cooly takes the money, at which they turn from him in disgust,
and signs his name Hans Ehrentraut at the foot of the document.
The third act opens with a performance by tight-rope dancers. Wenzel,
who has been quite despondent about his promised bride, is enraptured
by their skill. He especially admires the Spanish dancer
Esmeralda, who bewitches him so entirely, that he wooes her. The
director of the band being in want of a dancing-bear, is not loth to
take advantage of the lad's foolishness. He engages him as a dancer,
and easily overcomes Wenzel's scruples by promising him Esmeralda's
hand. Just when they are putting him in bear's skin his parents appear
on the scene with the marriage contract. To their great dismay he
refuses to sign it and when pressed, runs away.--Meanwhile Mary has
heard of her lover's fickleness, which she would fain disbelieve, but
alas Kezul shows her the document by which Hans renounces her.
Nevertheless she refuses to wed any other man than the one her heart
has chosen. Wenzel approaching again and recognizing in Mary the bride
he had renounced, is now quite sorry to give her up, and very willing
to take her if she will only yield. Mary, praying to be left alone for
a little while, abandons herself to her grief and is thus found by
Hans, whom she bitterly reproaches for his faithlessness. But he only
smiles, and recalls the whole chorus, cooly saying that it is his wish
that Mary should wed Micha's son. That is too much for poor Mary's
feelings. She declares that she is ready to do as they wish, but
before she signs the contract, Hans steps forth in full view of his
parents, who at last recognize in him their long lost eldest son.
Though his stepmother Agnes is in a rage about his trick, he claims his
rights as son and heir, and the bride of course is not loth to choose
between the two brothers. Kezul the matchmaker retires
shamefaced, and when Wenzel shows himself in the last scene as a
dancing-bear, and stammeringly assures the laughing public, that they
need not be afraid of him, as he is "not a bear but only Wenzel", the
final blow is dealt whereby he loses all favour in the eyes of
Kruschina, who is now quite reconciled to give his daughter to Micha's
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