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Dvořák began composition during May 1881, with an interruption in October 1881 to write a string quartet for the Hellmesberger Quartet. After an initial failed attempt, the quartet was completed in November 1881, allowing work on the opera to resume. The work was first performed in Prague, at the Nové České Divadlo (New Czech Theatre) on October 8, 1882. The work was first performed in the United States on March 24, 1984 in a concert format presented at Carnegie Hall in New York City by conductor Robert Bass and the Collegiate Chorale with Martina Arroyo as Marina.
The libretto was originally written for Karel Šebor to set, but he proved highly unwilling to do so, so Červinková-Riegrová offered her work to Dvořák, who proved much more enthusiastic, but requested plenty of modifications to the libretto as it stood, including the introduction of more opportunities for ensembles. The form of the opera was largely in imitation of Eugène Scribe, and the plot was derived from Ferdinand Mikovec’s Dimitr Ivanovič, itself based upon Friedrich Schiller's incomplete Demetrius.
With Dimitrij, Dvořák scored a great popular success, though he later persuaded his librettist to rework Act 4, and this revised version was given in 1885. Later still, he heavily reworked the opera along Wagnerian lines, and this radical version was performed during 1892.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, October 8, 1882
(Conductor: - Mořic Anger)
|Jov, the patriarch of Moscow||bass||Ferdinand Koubek|
|Prince Vasilij Šujský||baritone||Josef Lev|
|Petr Fedorovič Basmanov||bass||Frantisek Hynek|
|Xenie Borisovna||soprano||Irma Reichová|
|Dimitrij Ivanovič||tenor||Václav Soukup|
|Marfa Ivanovna||contralto||Eleonora Gayerová|
|Marina Mníškova, Dmitrij's wife||soprano||Marie Zofie Sittová|
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.
- Šourek. p.89
- Jan Smaczny. "Dimitrij". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Otakar Šourek. The Chamber Music of Antonín Dvořák (PDF). Translated by Roberta Finlayson Samsour. Czechoslovakia: Artia.