Marie loves Hans and Hans loves Marie. But Hans is a stranger in the city, and Marie is promised to Wenzel, the son of the landowner Micha, in order to settle an old debt. The cunning marriage broker Kecal even offers Hans money if he will renounce Marie. Surprisingly, Hans accepts – or is it merely a ruse? Bedřich Smetana’s opera premiered in Prague in 1866. In a revised version featuring a polka and a furiant, this work, which explores the soul of the Czech people, enjoyed huge success around the world. In her colourful staging in the style of the 1980s, director Mariame Clément examines the meaning of homeland and what it is to be foreign. With a sense of rhythm and poetry, an understanding of life’s vagaries and wielding a sharp scalpel, she gradually uncovers the different layers of this cheerful (love) story to reveal a bitter core.
A long time ago, Marie’s father Kruschina came to an agreement with the rich Tobias Micha that Marie must marry his son. Micha has two sons: Wenzel is the child from Micha’s second marriage and a little naive. His older half-brother, Hans, whose mother died young, is regarded as being missing. Neither Marie’s parents nor Marie have ever met both brothers.
Marie loves Hans – Hans loves Marie. Hans is a stranger in town; no one knows anything about him and Marie has just learned that she has to marry the son of Tobias Micha. She is distraught and it appears as though Hans is hiding something from her. The marriage broker Kezal is negotiating the contract for the imminent marriage of Wenzel and Marie with the bride’s parents. Marie strongly rejects her parents’ request but Kezal insists the contract be finalised. However, the celebratory mood of the guests puts an end to the negotiations for now and everyone starts dancing.
Marie and Wenzel meet by chance. When Marie realises who is standing in front of her, she makes the unsuspecting young man swear that he will never want to marry Marie. At the same time, Kezal talks to Hans and hopes to persuade him with the offer of another, wealthy bride if he gives up Marie. Hans eventually agrees to give up Marie on the condition that he receives a payment of 300 guilders and the assurance that ›only the son of Micha‹ is allowed to marry Marie. Kezal thinks he has nearly achieved what he wanted although this is exactly what old Micha wanted. When he announces the agreement with Hans, everyone is dismayed about the young man who sells his bride. Hans signs the contract.
A circus director and his troop present themselves and their show. Wenzel falls head over heels in love with the pretty performer Esmeralda and lets her talk him into getting into a bear costume that night instead of the totally drunk performer. In return, she promises her love. Marie doesn’t want to believe that Hans betrayed her until Kezal shows her the contract Hans signed. Stunned by this, Marie decides to get revenge on Hans and to now marry Wenzel out of defiance. Hans’s request to her, that she should trust him, is ignored by an incensed Marie. However, when Tobias Micha and his wife suddenly appear and see in Hans the son of Micha’s first marriage who was deemed as missing, Marie finally realises her lover’s plan and forgives him. As usual, it is Wenzel who remains clueless – he happily gets out of his bear costume and is totally surprised when his mother scolds him and takes him with her. Hans makes amends with his father and the couple gets his blessing.