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

The Story of 'The Jacobin'

Dvorak's opera has three acts, all set in a swoo-1147-jacobin-350-Ludk-Velemall Bohemian village. The town's main authority is the local count, called Vilem. He lords over the place with the help of Filip, his steward. As ACT ONE opens, a church choir is heard rehearsing, and we meet the young man Bohuš and his wife Julie, who sings a gentle song to their young child.

Bohuš is Count Vilem's son. He's returning home after a long visit to France, where he met and married Julie. But during his absence, his cousin Adolf has turned Bohuš's father against him. There's a revolution going on in France, and Adolf has branded Bohuš as a radical -- a Jacobin -- which has put him at odds with the conservative count.

Before long, people come out of the church and into the square. Filip, the steward, lavishly compliments the church's choirmaster, Benda. He has an ulterior motive -- Filip wants to marry Benda's daughter, Terinka. But she's in love with someone else, the young man Jiří. Jiří begins to taunt Filip, who threatens to have Jiří shipped off to the army.

As Terinka and Jiří sing a love duet, they're interrupted by a jeering Filip. Bohuš and Julie then appear again. Nobody seems to know who they are, so they tell everyone that they're travelling players, hoping to see the count. But as the act ends, Count Vilem himself arrives. Not realizing that his son has returned, VIlem announces that he has disowned Bohuš, and made Adolf his only heir.

woo-1147-jacobin-350-Vladimr-DolealACT TWO opens in a school room, where the choirmaster Benda is rehearsing a serenade. Terinka and Jiří are also there. They sing a lush duet, but Terinka is worried. She thinks her father want her to marry Filip -- and she's right. Benda wants Jiří's voice in the choir, but he doesn't want the young man as a son-in-law.

Word comes that the authorities are in town, searching for people with revolutionary leanings. Bohuš and Julie arrive, looking for a place to stay. Benda is reluctant to help them; there's a rumor spreading that they were radicals in France. But the two then sing the moving duet, "We have wandered in foreign lands" -- an expression of love for their homeland. Benda is convinced, and agrees to arrange a meeting between Bohuš and Count Vilem.

Filip then enters, still hoping to press his case with Julie. Naturally, Jiří objects. This time, Benda steps in on Jiří's behalf. And when Adolf turns up to support Filip, Bohuš also speaks up for Jiří. Adolf is furious, and denounces Bohuš as a dangerous revolutionary -- and he's even more upset when Bohuš reveals that he is actually the count's exiled son. Both angry and worried, Adolf has Bohuš arrested, and imprisoned in Count Vilem's castle.

ACT THREE takes place inside the castle, where the young man Jiří tries to convince the count that his son really has returned. Julie and the choirmaster Benda also intervene with the count, on behalf of Bohuš.

At first, Count Vilem refuses to listen. But as he's thinking things over, he hears music from another room. It's the sound of his late wife's harp, and a voice singing the same lullaby his wife sang to Bohuš many years ago. It's Julie, singing to her own son -- Vilem's grandchild.

Hearing that, Vilem's resolve softens. Then Julie pleads her case again, showing the count a document proving that Bohuš had actually been an enemy of the radicals in France, and that the Jacobins had sworn to kill him.woo-1147-jacobin-350-Miloslav-Podskalsk

Benda begins leading a serenade for the count's entertainment, and again, hearing traditional music moves the count. He summons Bohuš, and the two are finally reconciled. Adolf's plot to discredit Bohuš, and inherit the count's wealth, has failed. The count even blesses the marriage of Jiří and Terinka, and the townspeople rejoice as the opera ends.

 

by Bruce Scott