Or, The Bartered Bride. Here’s an underappreciated and woefully underrecorded work. When first I ventured into opera, I got the bright idea to explore some Czech composers. After all, I rather fancy Czech composers in other genres, so why not opera? Obviously the big name here is Janacek, but he ain’t the only one. No, old, deaf Smetana wrote a fine little comic opera, with some serious overtones.

For those not familiar with it, the story involves the story of young Marenka, whose parents have agreed to marry her off to the son of a creditor. The son everyone assumes she will marry is a dolt. Poor lady. Now the creditor has another son, but he’s gone, having fallen out with his family. As luck would have it – either that or a convenient opera plot twist – Marenka’s true beloved, Jenik, is in fact the other son! Jenik sneakily barters with the marriage contractor to have Marenka married off only to a son of the creditor, without naming the son. How clever! Hilarity and misunderstandings ensue, and in the end, the lovers end up getting married, and everyone is pretty much happy. Ah, arranged marriages!

Okay, so the story is opera-hokey, but the music and singing is delightful. How can one not appreciate an opera that has the second act open with a chorus singing the praises of beer? The variety of dance numbers, musical interludes, and wonderfully written arias makes this a fun, lively way to spend a couple of hours.

Why bring this up? Well, I just managed to procure a used copy of Zdenek Chalabala’s 1959 Supraphon recording of this work and must sing its praises. It really is a delightful recording. All of the singers are Czech, so they sing the parts with ease that I can’t imagine an international cast could not. There are no real breakout singers who steal the show, and that’s just fine. Everyone works together just about perfectly. The Prague National Theater Orchestra and Chorus play about as well as one can possibly expect, and even the early stereo sound – apparently Supraphon’s first foray into the new medium – is quite good. Only the compression and distortion at high levels gives away its age. I’ve heard two other versions, including the even older first recording with the same orchestra but under the baton of Otakar Ostrcil for HMV, and, it, too sounds downright enjoyable, if perhaps a bit rustic. Zdenek Kosler’s early digital effort for Supraphon is likewise terrific, and it features the incomparable Gabriela Beneckova, but the sound is not so hot, and the overall effect is not as jubilant as the Chalabala.

Overall, a fine opera and a fine performance. If you need a good, energetic comic opera as a pick me up, consider this one.