Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Dimitrij (ed. Popišil)
Leo Marian Vodička (tenor) Dmitrij Ivanovich; Drahomíra Drobková (soprano) Marfa Ivanovna; Magdaléna Hajóssyóvá (soprano) Marina Mnishkova; Lívia Ághová (soprano) Xenia Borisovna; Peter Míkulaš (bass) Pyotr Fyodorovich Basmanov; Ivan Kusjner (baritone) Shuisky; Ludĕk Vele (bass)
Prague Radio Chorus
Czech Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Gerd Albrecht
Notes, text and translation included
Rec Dvořák Hall of the House of Artists, Prague on February 6th-14th, 1989 DDD
SUPRAPHON 11 1259-2 [3CDs: 190'03]
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Ask most people about Dvořák opera, and the most likely response will be, 'Oh, yes, Rusalka' and probably not much else. Dvořák's output of operas in fact includes 'The Jacobin', 'The Devil and Kate', 'Alfred', 'King and Charcoal Burner', 'Vanda', 'Armida' and, of course, 'Dimitrij'. He wrote operas at the beginning and end of his career, with 'The Jacobin' falling in the middle. 'Dmitrij' marks the climax of the operas whose subjects concerned national conflicts: 'Alfred' (1870; English/Danish); 'Vanda' (1876, rev 1880; Poles/Germans). The other operas of the 1880s, which include 'King and Charcoal Burner' and 'The Cunning Peasant,' are of the Czech village comedy type.

'Dimitrij''s original version dates from 1881/2. Dvořák enjoyed a close working relationship with his librettist, Marie Červinková-Riegrová (who was also the librettist of 'The Jacobin', 1887/8).

'Dimitrij' was presented in several different versions during the composer's lifetime. It was premiered in 1882, with cuts and revisions occuring in the 1886 piano reduction. The work was further revised in 1894 (this version premiered in Prague in that year), however the final performances in Dvořák's lifetime (in Plzeň in 1904) consisted of the first version combined with the third act in the second version. An edition by Karel Kovarovič of the National Theatre was the preferred version for a long time; the present recording returns to the first version, including all music composed between 1882 and 1885, and includes sections cut by Kovarovič as well as music played in 1882 but never published. Such cuts as there are are detailed in the booklet's introduction.

All of which leaves us with an opera of over three hours of music. The story is a continuation of that of 'Boris Godunov', so some of the characters will already be familiar - Shuisky (now Dimitrij's chief antagonist), Marina and Xenia. The subject had previously been set by Victorin de Joncières in 1876, wherein Dimitrij was a much weaker character than that portrayed by Dvořák. Instead of using Pushkin as a model, Dvořák's librettist went to various other sources: 'Demitrius' by Schiller (1805) and 'Dmitri Ivanovič' by Ferdinand Mikovec (1856). Dvořák's sources see Dimitrij convinced of his claims to the throne with a gradual realisation of his use as a political pawn. There is scope for a multitude of operatic devices, which the composer seems to delight in: mass scenes with eight-voice double-choruses and heated ensembles vie with tender duets and impassioned soliloquies to combine in one coherent whole. The booklet notes tell us that ''Dimitrij' is Antonin Dvořák's most important stage composition equalled only by 'Rusalka', and with a performance as convincing as the present one, it is hard to disagree. Certainly, the listener is convinced that this really is music straight from the composer's heart.

The warmth of the Czech orchestral forces is matched here by a characteristically welcoming Supraphon recording. Under the confident direction of Gerd Albrecht, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra carries the listener through the three hours of music with clear conviction.

A brief synopsis is as follows: After the death of Boris, the Russian people are split between the followers of the Godunov family (led by Shuisky) whilst others (led by General Basmanov) support Dmitrij, assumed son of Ivan the Terrible and husband to the Polish Marina of the Sandomir family. If Marfa (widow of Ivan the Terrible) publicly recognises Dimitrij as her son, he will triumph. Despite knowing that this is not the case, she does this to use him as a pawn for her revenge on her old enemies. In Act 2, Dimitrij is seen breaking up altercations between Poles and Russians and rescuing Xenia, with whom he forms a relationship. He also breaks up a conspiracy led by Shuisky, who is to be executed.

In Act 3, Xenia begs Dimitrij to have mercy on Shuisky. Marina realises the link between the two and reveals Dimitrij's humble origins, but he nevertheless intends to remain ruler. Finally, in Act 4 Xenia mourns her betrayed love. Marina, however, has Xenia killed and reveals Dimitrij's origins. Dimitrij is finally shot by Shuisky.

The major parts are well taken. Leo Vodička copes extremely well with the not inconsiderable demands of the title role. His blessing of the Kremlin in Act 1 Scene 5 ("Pride of our Fatherland") is particularly beautiful, the unaccompanied chorus emphasising the prayer-like atmosphere. Again, he is expressive and heart-felt in Act 2 Scene 1 towards Marina (the dramatic problems begin when he asks her to become a Russian). His use of a little vibrato in Act 3 Scene 1, as he remembers Xenia, works well as he sounds appropriately young and fervent (especially when he calls his beloved's name).

Lívia Ághová sounds young and fresh as Xenia and is pure joy to hear, despite occasional tensing. Her Act 4 monologue, 'I dreamt that pale Death touched me', is sad and dejected, inflected with a specifically Dvořákian longing; also, the duet in Act 3 (the Recognition Scene) brings out the best in her.

Magdaléna Hajóssyóvá is a powerful Marina with a clean attack, but is not quite believable (she does rather sound as if she is singing with her head in a score).

Ivan Kusnjer as Shuisky is more than adequate, but could possibly have brought greater drama and malignancy to the part: his description of Dimitrij as 'the Polish Satan' could have been more powerfully declaimed, for example. Ludek Vele's strong bass is impressive in the part of Iov (Patriarch of Moscow), although he sounds strained in the higher registers.

Of the remaining characters, Drahomíra Drobková's Marfa is clear-toned, but she also makes it difficult to believe that she is really torn apart by Dimitrij's pleas to accept him. Peter Míkulaš has a well-focused voice as Basmanov.

Once again, it is Albrecht's sure and confident direction which makes this set the triumph it is. I just wish the booklet had been better prepared. Mis-spellings abound in the English translation ('I don't want a trone (sic) by fraud'; Xenia is sometimes rendered as 'Xenie') and the libretto does not indicate when people and groups sing simultaneously. Some pages were missing in my copy, and one passage allocated to a chorus of Boyars is actually sung by the Patriarch. The final line of the opera sums this up: there are French and German translations, whereas the English merely reprints the original Czech. A shame, given the care which evidently went in to the preparation of the performing edition and, indeed, the performance itself.

Nevertheless, this remains an essential purchase for all lovers of the music of Antonín Dvořák .

Colin Clarke

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