Dvořák The Jakobín
This is a curious case deserving comment. Virtually unknown in England, The Jacobin (1889) was done (fairly) proud at Barbican by the BBC, in a costly concert production with a mainly Czech cast.
Reviews by our colleagues suggest that in the Hall it was something of a triumph, with witty and ingenious semi-staging and the libretto on surtitles; the suggestion is that it deserves full theatrical treatment in one of our key opera houses. It has been put on by both Scottish & Welsh National Opera, as well as at Wexford in 2001 - their recording was favourably reviewed by Gramophone)[Foné records].
Musical Pointers was not vouchsafed press tickets by the BBC, but we caught up with the broadcast on BBCiPlayer.
Having sampled it, and heard the rather gushing introductory dialogue with the presenter preceding the broadcast, one confirmed that it is indeed full of good tunes and Czech dance, but the high spirits and incomprehensible text gradually palled (the BBC used to make libretti available for home listeners, but not now for a long time?).
So, we have been sent the Czech CDs for review [Supraphon 11 2190-2 612]. The contrast with the broadcast (both heard in ideal listening conditions on our best equipment) is striking.
The recorded performance, despite its age, sounded immeasurably better in balance and vocal quality. Importantly, the lavish presentation is ideal, with copious background information and a 200-page libretto book, with parallel texts and translations, the English next to the Czech, with French & German on the opposite pages. It is easy to follow, with helpful bracketing for the frequent concerted passages.
Having started by comparing early scenes, I soon gave up on the broadcast. The opera makes for pleasant undemanding listening - Dvořák’s music is full of boisterous celebratory anthems and Czech folk-style melodies, with a bit of politics in the background - a good one to curl up with for a couple of hours, warm at home.
It would probably go down well at The Coliseum in one of their radical productions, but it is nowhere as interesting as Rusalka, the other Dvorak opera which has maintained a place in the repertoire.
Peter Grahame Woolf