|Ales Briscein as "Dimitrij"|
(photo: Kathy Wittman)
'Twas a grand night for singing when Opera Odyssey gave Boston its first ever performance of the little-known grand opera, Anton Dvorak's Dimitrij, a bombastic barnburner if there ever was one. Composed in 1800, with a libretto by Marie Cervinkova-Riegrova, this was in effect the U.S. premiere of Dvorak's original work (not the cut and pasted version by Kovarovic in 1906). Though the composer created ten operas in his life, this is his only truly grand opera on such an epic scale. Less well-known than his Rusalka and Armida, it deserves to be seen and especially heard more often. As beautifully Conducted by Gil Rose, with a seventy-plus exquisite chorus under the direction of Chorus Master William Cutter, this made Jordan Hall come alive as perhaps never before. It has a complex and convoluted plot that mirrors the complicated truths in history, occurring as it does just after the events in the better-known opera Boris Godunov.
It is Moscow, 1604, after Godunov's death, as the Russian people have divided into two camps, one led by Sujskij (bass-baritone Mark S. Doss) favoring the Godunovs, the other led by Basmanov (bass-baritone Christopher Job) favoring the false pretender Dimitrij (tenor Ales Briscein), the husband of the Polish Marina (soprano Dana Buresova) and the assumed son of Ivan the Terrible, Boris' predecessor. If Ivan's widow Marfa (mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura) should publicly declare Dimitrij her son (though she knows he is not), she believes it will help her against her enemies. Dimitrij breaks up a fight between the Russians and the Poles, rescuing Godunov's daughter Xenie (soprano Olga Jelinkova), and thwarts the conspiracy led by Sujskij, who is sentenced to be executed. Xenie begs Dimitrij to be merciful towards Sujskij. When Marina suspects a relationship has developed between her husband Dimitrij and Xenie, she reveals his humble birth, but he is firm in his commitment to Xenie and continuing his rule. Xenie, mourning her betrayed love, is killed on Marina's orders, though Marina changes her mind but not in time to stop the murder. Dimitrij, his origins revealed, is finally shot by Sujskij.
The superlative ensemble of singers in this production were all led by Briscien who, with his high tenor in the role of the False Dimitrij, never hit a false note. Though this was admittedly a concert version, one might have profited if he had demonstrated a little more real interaction with the other singers, as did his co-stars Buresova, Mishura and Jelinkova, with sumptuous detail, not to mention the ardent Doss. (At one point the text called for Dimitrij to be told: “if you can, look me in the face”). But there was so much to admire, with the healthy infusion of brilliant international stars, (Poles, Russians, and Czechs), and everything from mazurkas to triumphant choral singing. The huge Opera Odyssey Chorus and Orchestra echoed in their singing and playing the words from the text, a reference to “this magnificent cathedral” that could easily have been applied to Jordan Hall itself.
Rose has a busy year ahead, with his Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the remaining Opera Odyssey schedule, with tickets for the company's remaining performances to go on sale October 3rd. Their “Wilde Opera Nights” season will focus on “masterpieces inspired by the writings and world of Oscar Wilde, to include: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Lowell Lieberman (a co-production with the Boston Modern Opera Project, November 18 only, at Jordan Hall; a fully staged The Importance of Being Earnest by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, March 17 & 19, at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion; The Dwarf (Der Zwerg) by Alexander von Zemlinsky, April 14 only, at Jordan Hall; and Patience, or Bunthorne's Bride, by Sullivan and Gilbert, June 3 & 4, fully staged at Boston University Theatre. If their Dimitrij is any indication, it will surely be a full season of grand nights.