Dvorák Dimitrij

Author: 
John Warrack

Dvorák Dimitrij

  • Dimitrij

Dimitrij is a work to challenge the view that Dvorak was (Rusalka notwithstanding) no opera composer. The stage did not really come very easily to him, despite his persistent attempts to master its demands, but here the subject seems to have awoken particular responses. It continues the story of Boris Godunov where Mussorgsky left off. Dmitrij enters Moscow at the head of his Polish army. Marfa, mother of the murdered Dmitrij, claims to recognize him as her son, seeing here a possible means of vengeance for the wrongs she has suffered. Dmitrij marries Marina, but later, encountering Boris's daughter Xenia hiding from the revelling Poles, falls in love with her. Marina now jealously discloses Dmitrij's true origin, and succeeds in having Xenia killed. Eventually the truth is forced out of Marfa, and Dimitrij is shot by Shuisky.
A crucial difference from Mussorgsky lies in the characterization of Dmitrij. Deriving not from Pushkin, but partly from Schiller and from the Czech writer Ferdinand Mikovec, the plot here has Dmitrij convinced of his legitimacy, and only gradually realizing that he has been used by the Poles; he is a character of considerable nobility, destroyed by his sense of honour as much as by Shuisky's bullet. The work is to some extent a product of the Czech Russophilia of the 1880s and shares with many a Russian opera, from Glinka's A Life for the Tsar onwards, the casting of the Poles as nasty, decadent, Roman Catholic creeps who can only conduct their affairs through a haze of alcohol and to the rhythm of the polonaise. However, the opportunity for antiphonal choruses pitting them against the tough Russian folk is splendidly seized by Dvorak, and he has a good ear for alternating these public scenes with the more private moments of lyricism or emotional tension. These take place mostly between Dmitrij and the three women surrounding him. Leo Marian Vodicka shoulders the title-role bravely and though his voice is considerably tested by a very demanding part, he makes much of his exchanges, especially with Marfa. She is well sung by Drahomira Drobkova, who gives a powerful interpretation to set against the two rivals for Dmitrij's love Livia Aghova a slightly tense strained xenia to Magdalena Hajossyova's expertly handled Marina. Ivan Kusnjer spins his web craftily as Shuisky. The performance is vigorously conducted by Gerd Albrecht.
The work has featured from time to time in Czech repertories, especially at Brno; but the only production in this country has been one put together from the various possible versions by John Tyrrell for the Nottingham University Opera Group in the heyday of its enterprise back in 1979. Milan Pospisil sets out the issues, and his own solution of them for this recording, in the booklet, which includes French, German and Tyrrell's English translations of the libretto. This is a fine, convinced recording of a rarity that is well worth investigating.'

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