Reviewer's rating

Liberec is a small town of 100,00 inhabitants, with a beautiful opera house in an enchanting square, enthusiastically attended by a well-dressed audience of all ages.

Jakobin is Dvořak’s seventh opera and rightly one of his most popular and performed works in Czechia. Jakobin is set in a specific era, when the Jacobins were responsible for the downfall of the French monarchy, thus the aristocracy feared their spreading influence. Jakobin is considered to be one of Dvořak’s gems, and Liberec is rightly proud of this new production.

I loved the music and was most impressed with this joyful performance, featuring some excellent singers.  The costumes are colourful and authentic.  Dvořak’s music is full of lovely melodies, folk tunes, dances and foot-tapping numbers such as ‘Jak spěcha za’ (what a rush) or ‘to mně se stát’. There are romantic love duets – ‘pohled’ mi do oĉí, (look into my eyes) ‘nuž otci pravdu sjev’ (see the truth with your eyes).  The large, enthusiastic children’s chorus encourages the next generation of opera lovers and performers.

Dvořak based the central character, Benda, on his own former music teacher, Antonin Liemann whose daughter was called Terinka, also the name of Benda’s daughter in the opera.

The plot is rather predictable and can be easily followed –  Count Vilém, has disowned his son Bohuŝ, believing him to be a Jakobin traitor, due to lies by Vilém’s nephew and soon-to-be-heir, Adolf.  In reality Bohuŝ fought against the Jakobins fleeing back to his hometown with his family to escape a Jakobin death warrant. Adolf’s villainous assistant is Vilém’s chief-of-staff, Filip. Benda and his daughter Terinka give hospitality to Bohuŝ and his family. Adolf recognises Bohuŝ; to get rid of him, Bohuŝ is arrested and sentenced to death as a Jakobin. Julie, Bohuŝ’ wife reveals the truth to Vilm. Adolf and Filip realise the game is up and run away. Vilém declares Bohuŝ his heir, reconciles with his son and grandchildren. Vilém blesses Terinka and Jiří’s marriage.

The singers, on the whole, are excellent.

Czech star baritone Martin Bárta started his career in Liberec. Having heard him a few days before in Prague, I was pleased to hear him again as Bohuŝ. ‘My cizinou jsme bloudili’ (we wandered abroad) shows off the lovely timbre of his voice, good legato and breath control. He won the coveted Thalia award (equivalent to BAFTA) in 2022. He brings something special to the stage.

Czech bass Pavel Vanĉura also got his break in Liberec, and delivers a strong performance as Count Vilém, dominating Act 3. Czech soprano Věra Poláchová as Julie, sings almost exclusively in Liberec. ‘My pracovali a strádali’ (we struggled and suffered), is beautifully sung, although the voice sings too much ‘in the mask’ and is too covered for my taste. The top notes and the top of the voice, are glorious, as the voice is released from the mask and is allowed to fly.

Czech bass Zdeněk Plech, is excellent as the menacing bully Filip. He is multi-talented, also composing musicals.

Ukrianian tenor Sergey Kostov as Jiří was a soloist for the Ukranian Armed Forces and a house singer in Liberec since 1997. He has a lovely, warm, lyric tenor voice, well suited for this role.

Czech tenor, Jan Ježek sings a sympathetic Benda with an attractive voice.  He was artistic director for Pilsen and has sung all world-wide.

Czech soprano Veronika Kaiserovà’s Terinka is badly sung and acted; the voice is thin; support is poor and the technique is lacking for the coloratura phrases.  She is giggly, childish, and annoying vocally and dramatically.

Czech baritone Jiři Rajniŝ as Adolf, despite a good bass register, has a bad vibrato throughout the middle and high register, which is unusual for baritones.

Czech mezzo Petra Vondrová gives a strong performance as Lotinka. The Czech conductor Zbenek Muller, skilfully teases out the musical elements embedded in the score –  including all the folksy fun together with the drama.

Unfortunately, the surtitles are too faint to read, a technical glitch which could and should be addressed.

Liberec is a perfect overnight stop to see Czech operas in a magnificent theatre, which is also, in close proximity to many stunning castles.