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A Rearranged Marriage: 'The Bartered Bride'

Bedrich Smetana wrote music so clearly rooted in his Czech homeland that it would be easy to define him narrowly, as a musical nationalist. But in fact, his achievement goes far deeper than that.

There are plenty of composers whose music provokes waves of national pride when it's played in their homelands, but fails to strike the same, inspirational chords when it crosses international borders.

Think of John Philip Sousa, for example. At home in America, marches such as "The Stars and Stripes Forever" stir deep, patriotic sentiment. Overseas, those same pieces may seem little more than rousing diversions.

Yet, among the many composers whose work is plainly inspired by national traditions, there are a few who also belong to a more exclusive club — those whose music has deep meaning in their home countries, but has also achieved an undeniable, worldwide appeal.

In America, Aaron Copland wrote music like that. The brash, wide open sound of works like "Appalachian Spring" and "Billy the Kid" seems to flow in the blood of American listeners, yet his music has also earned a place in concert halls around the world. From England, the music of Edward Elgar has crossed continents and oceans, but retains an ineffably British nature that has given him a truly special place among his countrymen.

Many other nations can also boast of "favorite sons" whose music has achieved widespread fame — but few have been as musically blessed as the Czech Republic. Leos Janacek wrote a body of internationally acclaimed operas whose music seems inseparable from the rhythms and inflections of the Czech language itself. Antonin Dvorak wrote some of the world's most popular symphonies, yet even the one called the "New World" is unmistakably bound to Czech musical traditions.

Still, both Dvorak and Janacek owe a clear debt to Bedrich Smetana, whose efforts may have done more than any other to establish Czech music both at home and abroad.

Smetana is known to much of the world as the composer of "The Moldau," the famous tone poem from his sprawling, orchestral suite called "Ma Vlast," or "My Country." But Smetana's operas are what truly established him as a founding father of Czech, classical music — and his brilliant comedy The Bartered Bride has become a mainstay in opera houses around the world.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Smetana's lighthearted masterwork from one of the world's most prestigious stages, at the Palais Garnier, in a production by the Paris Opera. The conductor, Jiøí Bìlohlávek, is among the foremost interpreters of Czech music, and soprano Christiane Oelze stars in the title role.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

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