The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Smetana's "The Bartered Bride" is a romp, not in the elaborate Rossiniesque sense - its sets are too simple, its crowds too static - but along more solid Slavic lines.
Its performance at Wolf Trap on Saturday was a delightful end to the Met's run there. It had all the ingredients of comic opera raised to high art: superb singing, convincing acting, marvelous choreography well danced, and, above all, masterful musical leadership.
In the role of Marenka - who is in love with Jemik but promised by contract to Vasek - Patricia Craig sang with a voice that is clearly in superb condition. Most of her music lies in a comfortable middle range, but on the few occasions when the top was challenged, she met the challenge gloriously with a floating lightness that belied the difficulties.
Nicolai Gedda as the clever Jemik who waits until the last minute to claim his love, was a smooth and likable fellow. And Jon Vickers, the stuttering, stumbling oaf that Marenka is promised to, managed to mix a real dignity into the seams of his able comic routine.
The finest acting was provided by Ara Berberian as Kecal, the marriage broker.
The real character of the production, however, resided in the choreography of Pavel Smok. The Act II fight and Act II carnival scenes were inspired moments that combined clowning, tension, grace, and a peasant coarseness into a most subtle blend. The life and vitality projected in these scenes only emphasized the lack of these same qualities in the chorus, both vocally and visually.
James Levine, who is as exciting to watch as he is to listen to, conducted with enormous energy and conviction.