Dvořák’s “Dimitrij” at Bard SummerScape: Reflections on Troubled Times

Dimitrij_BardSummerScape7:30 pm • Friday, July 28th 2017
Fisher Center at Bard College •  Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

When listening to the music of Antonín Dvořák, there are moments where one just gets incredible goosebumps from the absolute beautiful chords he has dreamingly pulls together. I suspect there will be such moments in the Bard SummerScape production of Dvořák‘s opera Dimitrij which opens this weekend.

Dimitrij is a grand historical opera that is rooted in Polish-Russian history with all the elements that make great story: political pawns, powerhouse women who are actually driving the story, societal and personal turbulence, intimate moments, and more.

Dimitrij‘s libretto by Marie Červinková-Riegrová was originally written for Karel Richard Šebor, a Czech opera composer. But, Červinková-Riegrová had a change of heart and offered it to Dvořák who set it to music in 1881. Acclaimed at its 1882 premiere for its strong dramatic moments, original melodies, and masterful choral writing, Dimitrij was widely regarded as one of the most significant works created for the Czech operatic stage. Based on events of 17th-century Russia, Dimitrij resumes where Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov leaves off—vividly depicting the uncertainty, tribal loyalties, and struggles for power in the wake of the revered tsar’s death.

Anne Bogart, the production’s distinguished director, opens her program notes with the following:

After the death of Boris Godunov in 1605 and before the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613, a period of political crisis, civil uprisings, foreign intervention, and famine became the day-to-day reality in Russia. During this time several pretenders, attempting to seize the throne, threatened to destroy the state itself and caused major social and economic disruptions. Tensions were high. Factions were formed and re-formed. Antonín Dvořák set his grand opera “Dimitrij” during this turbulent stage that later became known as the “Time of Troubles.” (click here to read more)

While we certainly are in our own “Time of Troubles,” and one can certainly draw parallels to the uncertainty, tribal loyalties, and struggles for power that have been highlighted and openly observed in grand opera style this week, it is perhaps fruitful coincidence that Dimitrij begins its Bard SummerScape run this evening as productions such as this takes years of planning. It is a shame that our Washington freak show lends itself to the timeliness of the first fully staged production of Dvořák’s Dimitrij in America. The silver lining may be a reminder of how important our artistic conversations to the matters at hand.

Let us not forget however, this is grand opera full of fantastic music for us to take in. Set in the 1980’s, the opera features the chorus with great choral music as well as great story. You’ll want to know, the Bard production is being performed in Czech with English supertitles, and if you are not familiar with Dimitrij here are some resources for you via the SummerScape website:

For a synopsis, click here.       For program notes, click here.
For a listing of the cast and creative team, click here.

If you can’t attend tonight’s premiere, the other performance dates of Dimitrij are:

    • Sunday, July 30th at 2:00 pm with an opera talk at noon
    • Wednesday, August 2nd at 2:00 pm
    • Friday, August 4th at 7:30 pm
    • Sunday, August 6th at 2:00 pm

Here’s hoping you can take it in at some point in the days ahead and have a weekend of enjoyable musicking!

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