Showing posts with label Buxton Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buxton Festival. Show all posts

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dvorák's The Jacobin in Buxton, aka When Viktor Laszlo Went Home....

In a gloriously sunny Buxton for our Alicia's Gift concert the other day, I took the opportunity to catch The Jacobin, a little-known opera by Dvorák that the doughty festival director Stephen Barlow, the conductor, had somehow, somewhere, found and resuscitated. Here he is, with director Stephen Unwin, talking about it and how it all happened:

Result? An absolute joy - indeed with a great, warm heart. This is Dvorák in Slavonic Dances mode, glittery and foot-tappy and soulful, with a touching family twist and a subplot that was almost surreal in its clash of two worlds.

The opera ostensibly takes place in the wake of the French Revolution. Bohus and his wife Julie have come home to his Czech village, where his father is the Count. But the Count has heard, on the grapevine, that Bohus has joined up with Paris's revolutionaries and become a Jacobin, and that he intends to stir up revolution at home. Hence he's disowned him and is about to make his nephew, the evil Adolf (yes, really), heir to the title instead. He blames Julie for leading Bohus astray. Of course, he has got everything wrong: Bohus is a seriously good bloke who wants to save the people from oppression.

Cue Bohus's former music master, Mr Benda (yes, really - though no relation), who is trying to marry his daughter, Terinka, off to the corrupt, pompous but "important" Filip, steward to Adolf and the Count - but she's in love with Jiri, the only guy in the village who has a decent tenor voice. The Bendas take in Bohus and Julie, convinced that they are authentic Czechs when they sing a gorgeous duet about the wonderful music of their homeland. Meanwhile Mr Benda has written a cantata for the Count, who is about to hand over power to Adolf. The choir is rehearsing - and along come two nasty policemen to press-gang Jiri into the army, ordered by Filip to get him out of the way. "You can't do that," says Mr Benda. "He's my lead tenor! Don't you know how rare good tenors are?" And no way is he going to let them take Jiri. (This is priceless.)

The final act features a poignant scene where the two elderly men, the Count and Mr Benda, recall their long association, the days when Bohus was a small boy and Mr Benda taught him piano every day, and the Count still loved Mr Benda's music. Now the Count's beloved harp-playing wife has died, Bohus has gone and all is lost. Mr Benda is trying to pave the way for Bohus and Julie's return, but the Count will not listen. Julie must win him over herself. She plays the harp and sings the lullaby with which Bohus's mother used to sing him to sleep. The Count melts, Adolf's plot is revealed just in time, the Count finds himself surrounded by long-lost family and adoring grandchildren, and they all live happily ever after.

The production by Stephen Unwin was beautifully done, simple and sweet, with some very special qualities - the choir rehearsal with the kids mucking about, or the moment when Mr Benda reaches out to the Count and very, very slowly dares to touch his shoulder. As a whole it reminded me of something...First of all, the Count is a dead ringer for Dvorák himself. But beyond that, the costumes, the stances, the story, updated to the 1930s, seemed closer to home. Just a minute....

It's Casablanca, the sequel! 'Everybody comes to Dvorák's', perhaps....

Imagine that Viktor Laszlo and Ilse have gone home to his Czech village. Julie is blonde and elegantly dressed, with hat à la Ingrid Bergman. Filip is the spitting image of Louis - the corrupt policeman played by Claude Rains - and Adolf is just like Major Strasser. Music as consolation, support and evocation is constantly present - and it is Julie who plays it again, her song evoking the long-lost happy days that the Count - an odd and older version, perhaps, of Rick - has left far behind. So similar were they that I kept expecting the excellent Nicholas Folwell, as Filip, to say 'Round up the usual suspects' and Bohus, baritone Nicholas Lester, to stir up a Czech equivalent of the Marseillaise. There is even an Yvonne and her barman, of sorts, in Terinka and Jiri.

Terinka was a superb Anna Patalong, Anne Sophie Duprels a fulsome-toned Julie, and as Mr Benda we were delighted to see and hear Bonaventura Bottone, whom I used to see in everything at ENO but hadn't heard for years. The Count was a larger-than-life Andrew Greenan - on the grapevine I heard a story that he had stepped in at the last moment and learned the role in three days, which, assuming it's true, we would never have guessed. Stephen Barlow conducted with huge flair and energy (can't we have him at ENO sometime soon, please? He'd have got my vote to be their new music director, had I had such a vote.)

And full marks to the Buxton Opera House (see above), a Matcham theatre that feels like a miniature version of our own Coliseum, even sporting a turquoise curtain, which is what the Coli had before they refurbished it and it all went red. The opera was sung in English, too. A reasonable enough decision, under the circumstances - though Czech is a particularly awkward language for which to reset the rhythms and I would very much have liked to get my own hands on the translation to give it some finer tweaks. That is a very small caveat indeed. Basically: it's wonderful.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hungarian Dances goes to Buxton

Blazing sunshine, teeming crowds in the Pavilion Gardens, a brass band whiling away the afternoon, cupcakes galore and a crowd of delighted festival-goers - Buxton in its festive spirit, a rare and wonderful Buxton, and a very welcoming one. Above, the Hungarian Dances Concert team outside the Pavilion: pianist Margaret Fingerhut, JD and Bradley Creswick, the violin's answer to Bradley Wiggins. Enormous thanks to Stephen Barlow, Glyn Foley, Jeff and all the festival team, the AA for rescuing Bradley from a glitch on the A1, and whoever it was who sorted out the weather - it was truly a day to remember.

If you were there and you need some info or you want a CD or a book (I regret to say I underestimated demand and didn't bring enough), here are the vitalstatistics:

You can order Hungarian Dances on in paperback, hardback, Kindle e-book or large print. You can also get it in Dutch or Hungarian, and I'm promised that the Romanian edition (!) should be out soon.

A CD to accompany the book was specially recorded a few years ago by the brilliant French violin and piano team Philippe Graffin and Claire Desert. It's available on Onyx Classics, on disc or download. Get it here. The music for the book is all credit to Philippe, who not only dreamed up the idea, but found the perfect piece to represent the fictional concerto in the novel (it's the Dohnanyi that opens the programme).

There's much more info on all of this, plus some nice reviews and a few yummy Hungarian recipes at our designated HUNGARIAN DANCES website, here.

And last, but not least, if you want to book us for a Hungarian Dances concert, drop us a line. Yesterday's programme is 75 mins of music and reading with no interval, and there's also a full evening version in two halves. Apart from anything else, it is great fun. Featured works include Dohnanyi's Andante rubato alla zingaresca, Ravel's Tzigane, Vecsey's Valse Triste, Bartok's Romanian Dances, Hubay's Hejre Kati and Monti's Csardas, among others.

Friday, July 20, 2012

HUNGARIAN DANCES, Buxton Festival on Sunday

If you're anywhere near the Peak District this weekend, do come along to our Hungarian Dances Concert of the Novel at the Buxton Festival.

I read extracts of my novel, and the fabulous duo of violinist Bradley Creswick (leader of the Northern Sinfonia) and pianist Margaret Fingerhut perform all the appropriate pieces by the likes of Dohnanyi, Bartok, Hubay, Ravel & co, not forgetting Monti's Czardas and Dinicu's The Lark. We're at the Pavilion Arts Centre, kick-off is at 1.30pm and the concert is 75 mins straight through. We love this programme and hope that you will too!

Book online here.