Smetana’s Secret in Ostrava

The Secret is a typically bucolic piece by Smetana, telling the tale of a young man Kalina who had won the love of Róza but lost her when her father disapproved of the match because he was not wealthy. Rather than remain steadfastly loyal to her, Kalina married the poorest girl in the village. Twenty years later, and now widowed, he still has debts. By chance, he finds a document written by an old friar which informs him of a secret, the whereabouts of hidden treasure.  He does, admittedly, tell a friend about the secret, binding him to silence. That friend tells another friend with the same injunction and of course, within a few hours, all the village knows of the secret and that Kalina is searching for the hoard. When the treasure is unearthed, it turns out to be nothing but a homily that love is more important than wealth, which of course takes him back to Róza. All of this is accompanied by a sub plot in which Kalina’s son too has a secret, but in his case it is a clandestine romance with Róza’s niece.

It is a charming, touching, folksy opera full of Smetana’s easy lyricism, sprightly choral writing and tuneful arias. As such, it can serve as a companion piece to the composer’s much more familiar Bartered Bride. At the beautiful Dvorak Theatre in Ostrava, Robert Kružík conducted a brisk, lively account of the work. The two female leads were both very good. Anna Nitrová’s stern appearance as Róza melted most appropriately when reunited with her lover and her hitherto restrained mezzo broadened out as she embraced him. From a small frame Jana Sibera, as her niece, produced some opulent creamy sounds. In contrast, the men, with the exception of Martin Gurbal and Jakub Kettner in smaller roles, were musically a disappointing bunch, their worn voices having neither the warmth nor the volume for the task.

Tomáš Studený’s production and David Janošek’s décor were both attractive, the former keeping just the right side of excessive sentimentality, the latter creating some imaginative designs as Kalina’s search for the treasure is aided by the friar with some spooky followers. All in all, an enjoyable and entertaining evening and how refreshing that the principal lovers in the story are both in their forties. How often do you get that in opera?