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The Jacobin, Buxton Festival, review: ‘a loving performance’

July 17, 2014

The Telegraph by Rupert Christiansen

The Jacobin - Antonin Dvorak - Buston Festival - 12th July 2014Conductor - Stephen BarlowDirector - Stephen UnwinDesigner - Jonathan FensomLighting Designer - Malcolm RippethCoreographer - Lucy HindCount Harasova - Andrew GreenanBohus - Nicholas

This adaptaion of Dvořák’s The Jacobin shows Buxton Festival at its best, says Rupert Christiansen

4 out of 5 stars

After a financially and artistically disastrous season in 2013, Buxton Festival steadies the buffs with this delightful revival of Dvořák’s quaint, sweet-natured comedy of Bohemian rural life. A capacity audience was charmed by its effervescent score and naïve plot.

Bohus, a high-minded young nobleman, returns incognito to his native town with his French wife. He has spent time in Revolutionary Paris, where Enlightened ideas of justice and reform have inspired him.

Meanwhile a scheming cousin, eager to worm his way into the inheritance, has tricked Bohus’ father, the Count, into the false belief that his son has joined Robespierre’s sinister crew. Bohus has therefore been cursed and dispossessed, and somehow he must prove to the angry old man that his desire for social concord does not extend to siding with the guillotine and sans-culotterie.

Stephen Unwin’s unfussy staging, economically designed by Jonathan Fensom, updates the setting to the 1930s. I was worried that the waters were muddied by the implication that the Count’s position is underpinned by Nazi thuggery – are we meant to think that Bohus has been consorting with Communists, and does he end up making friends with jackboots? – but the story’s touching sincerity is not obscured, and the light relief provided by the local choir and its pedantic choir-master is whole-heartedly rendered.

Preparations for a town concert are interwoven with the drama of familial reconciliation: as in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, music’s power to bring a community together is central to the message, and Dvořák’s inexhaustible fund of warm melodies and bouncy rhythms endorse it irresistibly.

Buxton fields an agreeable cast. Nicholas Lester seems somewhat too stolid and ponderous for the dreamy Bohus, but his steady warm baritone does the job nicely. As ever, the admirable Anne Sophie Duprels displays intelligent musicianship and finely sensitive acting as his wife, and I was equally charmed by Anna Patalong and Matthew Newlin as the courting peasants whose canoodling is dogged by Bonaventura Bottone’s tetchy but endearing choir-master. James McOran-Campbell, Nicholas Folwell and Andrew Greenan contribute strongly, and the juvenile and adult choruses are both sparky.

Stephen Barlow conducts with smiling grace and the Northern Chamber Orchestra plays with a beguiling lilt: the sum of it is a loving performance of a deeply loveable opera, the homely Buxton Festival at its best.

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