The Jacobin, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2014Posted on 13 July 2014
The Jacobins were the hard-core French revolutionaries who inspired the Reign of Terror, and in this Dvořak opera the Count has been persuaded that his son Bohuš has become a Jacobin. Correcting this calumny and persuading the Count he has been misled appears to recede into the distance towards the end … yet suddenly the turning point that opens the old man’s mind is music itself — a few bars played on the harp.
Music too is the excuse for the young lovers Jiři and Terinka to get together in the home of her father Benda the local music teacher, choirmaster and composer. He wants his daughter to marry the scheming Steward Filip who with the Count’s dastardly nephew Adolf — the man who initiated the slander again Bohuš — will govern the local town after the Count abdicates. Director Stephen Unwin has rather cleverly updated the action to the 1930s, a period when dark forces were indeed at work in Czechoslovakia.
The idea works rather well and the casting is superb. Nicholas Lester, whose magnificent stage presence is backed up by the lyrical gravitas of his voice, made an excellent Bohuš, with Anne Sophie Duprels as his wife Julie coming through beautifully in the touching scene where she persuades Andrew Greenan’s Count that he is badly mistaken. Fortunately it was all sung in English, because Greenan had only three days to learn the role, yet sang with firm conviction and perhaps a twinkle in his eye when he demands an amnesty for all prisoners (Bohuš is the only one) before resigning his title.
As Benda the music master, Bonaventura Bottone was a delight. Fussy, sycophantic towards the Steward, full of enthusiasm towards his music, and singing with fine strength and diction. Anna Patalong as his daughter Terinka sang a beautiful soliloquy in Act II, and her duet with the excellent Jiři of Matthew Newlin was full of warmth. As to the bad guys, James McOran-Campbell’s Adolf was a thoroughly nasty piece of work with his demi-jackboots and riding whip, and Nicholas Folwell as Filip showed a charming narcissism in his strongly sung portrayal of this Nazified Colonel Blimp.
Excellent support from the chorus, and from the orchestra under the baton of Stephen Barlow, who gave huge bounce to the overture and a lovely prelude to Act II. This, Dvorak’s eighth opera, contrasts young love in a musically rural setting against the coldly smug hubris of ambitious non-entities. Very different from the folk tale ideas in Rusalka, this musical gem performed with such a fine cast is well worth the trip to Buxton.
Performances continue on various dates until July 27 — for details click here.