A Rare, Bohemian Gem: Dvorak's 'The Jacobin'

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woo-1147-jacobin-300The opera house is a great place to find celebrities, ranging from star composers and superstar singers, to domineering conductors, controversial directors and powerful impresarios. Sometimes, though, the opera house itself is a celebrity.

The most famous example of that may be La Scala, in Milan, with a history as long and distinguished as any theatrical venue in the world. The world premieres of Verdi's Otello, Nabucco and Don Carlo took place there, as did those of scores of other operas, by composers including Rossini, Bellini and Puccini. It's no wonder that La Scala has long been seen as the cradle of Italian opera.

Other famous theaters have also reached celebrity status, playing similar roles in their own countries and cultures. There's Covent Garden in London, the Vienna State Opera, the Paris Opera and Opéra Comique in France and the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. And there's another theater that deserves a place on that list, but often doesn't get one.

In 1881, the world premiere of Bedrich Smetana's ceremonial drama Libuse launched a brand new opera house in Bohemia, the Prague National Theatre. Ever since, that historic venue has been the symbolic home to the great traditions of Czech opera. Smetana's popular comedy The Bartered Bride also premiered there, and so did The Jacobin, a sentimental charmer by Antonin Dvorak.

The Jacobin actually had a pair of premieres at Prague's National Theatre. The first one took place in 1889, and though it was a modest success, Dvorak wasn't satisfied, and decided to revise the score. That process was interrupted by the composer's lengthy visit to the U.S. So the final version of the opera wasn't completed until 1898, when its premiere was given in the same opera house.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us a new, 2011 production of The Jacobin -- also from the Prague National Theatre. The stars are soprano Maria Kobielska, baritone Roman Janál and bass Miloslav Podskalsy, in the story of a bitter, family conflict, resolved by the power of music.

by Bruce Scott

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