Dvorak’s Jacobin at Buxton

Is Dvorak’s The Jacobin a playful folk opera, or a serious piece about the abuse of power? Probably, both of these and getting the balance right between them cannot be easy. Stephen Unwin with the Buxton Festival Opera made a good job of it. It helped to have it set in the 1930s, because that period in Central Europe has a resonance for us. Complaints of anachronism in that the Jacobins, as a political movement, related only to the late 18th century, are too pedantic. Clearly the title of the opera cannot be changed, but reinterpreting, in our minds,  each reference to the Jacobins as to communists, and the dramatic setting works perfectly.

The lighter, comic scenes were successful, especially at the beginning of the Act Two as the choirmaster prepares his forces for the ceremonial serenade. No wonder with veteran Bonaventura Bottone at his very best, and aided by engaging performances from  Anna Patalong and Matthew Newlin as the young lovers. As always at Buxton, the chorus selected from students at the music colleges performed with gusto and precision. In the more serious scenes, we had effective portrayals from James McOran-Campbell  as the villain Adolf, dressed most appropriately as a young Hitler, and from Nicholas Lester as his adversary Bohus. The latter also sang well but sadly that could not be said of Anne Sophie Duprels, whose performance  as his wife was spoilt by an excessive vibrato and who acted as if in a silent expressionist film. Stephen Barlow in the pit and the Northern Chamber Orchestra made much of Dvorak’s lovely score.