July 16, 2014 5:01 pm

The Jacobin, Buxton Opera House, Derbyshire – review

Dvořák’s unceasing generosity of melody elevates this rarely performed opera
The Jacobin - Antonin Dvorak - Buston Festival - 12th July 2014 Conductor - Stephen Barlow Director - Stephen Unwin Designer - Jonathan Fensom Lighting Designer - Malcolm Rippeth Coreographer - Lucy Hind Count Harasova - Andrew Greenan Bohus - Nicholas Lester Adolf - Jame McOran-Campbell Julie - Anne Sophie Duprels Filip - Nicholas Folwell Jiri - Matthew Newlin Benda - Bonaventura Bottone Terinka - Anna Patalong Lotinka - Martha McLorinan Chorus: Daisy Brown, Fiona Hymns, Joanna Norman, Catarina Sereno, Sophie Dicks, Imogen Garner, Natalie Sinnott, Andrew Brown, Adam Kowalczyk, Mikael Onelius, Leonel Pinheiro, Nicolas Dwyer, Benjamin Lewis, Jamie Rock, David Howes. Townspeople/Soldiers: Carl Hughes, Edward Gaffney, Paul Foster. Children's Chorus: Members of The Kinder Children's Choir. Founder Director Joyce Ellis MBE.©Robert Workman

Stephen Unwin's production of 'The Jacobin'. Photo: Robert Workman

Patriotism, the ageing process, nostalgia for young love, the restorative power of music – common sense suggests there are far too many themes lurking beneath The Jacobin, Dvořák’s rarely performed opera of estrangement and reconciliation. And yet, judging by this Buxton Festival production, you can’t help sensing a consistency and seamlessness that surmount its length (three hours including two intervals), its thematic diversity and all-too-simple personalities. The music justifies everything – an unceasing generosity of melody “that soothes our heart and warms our soul”, according to one of the gloriously lyrical choruses in Rodney Blumer’s neat English translation. With a music teacher playing the pivotal role, Dvořák clearly had fun writing The Jacobin: the tinges of sweet sadness that characterise so much late-19th-century Bohemian music are always balanced by boisterous dances and moments of genuine musical comedy.

All this is meat and drink to opera fans. The very un-commercial, slightly recherché quality of The Jacobin helps to define Buxton as a festival destination and make it worth the effort to get there, and it’s always a pleasure to be reunited with Matcham’s elegantly intimate Buxton Opera House. The performance itself is unobjectionably adequate. Stephen Unwin’s staging, in simple designs by Jonathan Fensom, half-heartedly suggests the 1930s, with brownshirts making a perfunctory appearance in the last act. It’s hard to see what this adds – and it sits oddly with the quaint social milieu of Marie Červinková-Riegrová’s libretto, which abounds in quasi-feudal deference to age and social rank.

But to Unwin’s credit, nothing interferes with the music, which is lustily, sometimes imprecisely championed by the Northern Chamber Orchestra and Buxton Festival Chorus under Stephen Barlow. Benda, the music teacher, is endearingly portrayed by Bonaventura Bottone: this is a part that could easily be mugged and cheapened, but Bottone gives the character dignity without underselling the pedantry. As the “junior” pair of lovers, Matthew Newlin and Anna Patalong show sweet promise, but the rest of the cast – including Nicholas Lester and Anne Sophie Duprels as the “senior” lovers, with Nicholas Folwell and Matthew Best in baritone and bass parts – struggle to develop beyond archetypes.


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Life & Arts on Twitter

More FT Twitter accounts