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Dimitri (Bornier & Silvestre)





Act I

A picturesque setting in Poland, late winter. On the right, the entrance to a monastery; at the back, the slope of a hill; at the foot of the hill flows a river (the Don). The Prior disembarks onto the riverbank, followed by a group of Cossacks.

Dimitri, pretender to the Russian throne, was raised, under the name of Vasili, in a monastery. He left the monastery to follow Vanda, a cousin of the king of Poland, who saw in him a means of achieving her ambitious ends, but then he fell deeply in love with Marina. She had been promised by her father to the Count of Lysberg. On learning of this, Dimitri killed the latter in a duel and was thrown into prison, but Vanda set him free. Dimitri relates all this to the Prior. Meanwhile Marina, whose father has sworn to kill Dimitri, has left home and is travelling with a band of Gypsies; she is looking for Dimitri. The Count of Lusatia arrives at the monastery and reveals to the Prior that the young Vasili who was entrusted to his care some years ago, is none other than Dimitri, the son of Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible), whose throne has been usurped by Boris (Godunov). The time has now come, he says, to overthrow Boris and restore the crown to the rightful heir. Dimitri lets Marina into the secret and asks her to go to the castle of Vyksa, where Tsarina Marpha, Ivan’s widow, is held captive by Boris and there still grieves for her son, whom she believes to be dead. As he leaves the monastery, the Count comes upon Dimitri and Marina as they declare their love.

Act II

Vanda’s palace in Krakow. An Italian Renaissance interior; at the back, a gallery. Ladies-in-waiting, splendidly dressed; Vanda, seated on an ottoman.

The Count of Lusatia announces to Vanda that Dimitri is to be recognised as tsar and tells her that she must obtain his promise to marry her, in order to reign as tsarina. Alone with Dimitri, the Count urges him to abandon Marina, and does his utmost to stir his ambition and desire for power. Seeing that Dimitri will not give up his love for Marina, the Count reminds him that she is with Marpha at the castle of Vyksa, and that Boris, fearing for his throne, is likely to kill both of them; only Vanda can save them. The king of Poland, acting as arbitrator, declares that he will defend Dimitri’s rights against the usurper, Boris; he advises him to marry Vanda.

Act III – first tableau

Within the castle of Vyksa, in Russia. As the curtain rises, Marina is reading to Marpha, but she breaks off because the tsarina does not appear to be listening. 

Marina tells the tsarina that her son, Dimitri, is still alive and that she, Marina, is his fiancée. Marpha is torn between joy and doubt. Job, the primate of Moscow, who is close to Boris, comes to warn Marpha that ‘a base adventurer’, aiming to topple the throne and depose Boris, is claiming to be her son; he tells her that she must refuse to recognise him. Marpha is unsure in her mind, but she expresses her hatred for Boris. She dismisses Job, after leading him to believe that she intends to recognise Dimitri as her son.

Act III – second tableau

Dimitri’s camp. Evening; tents towards the back of the stage. The city of Moscow, with its domes, is just visible as a distant outline in the mist. Military music, movement of troops.

Dimitri tells the Prior that he has been forced to agree to marry Vanda in order to save Marina and Marpha. It is announced that there has been a military uprising; Boris has been killed in his palace.

Act IV – first tableau

Inside one of the tents.

Celebration of the forthcoming coronation of Dimitri. The Count of Lusatia drinks to the health of ‘Tsarina Vanda’, whereupon Dimitri smashes his glass and dismisses the soldiers. Left alone with Dimitri, the Count tells him his story. Fifteen years ago Boris was regent of Russia; Tsar Ivan had two sons; the elder son died, leaving his brother as heir to the throne. Deciding to get rid of the latter, Boris approached a nobleman who had fallen on bad times and offered him a substantial sum of money to kill the child, whose name was Dimitri. The murder was committed, but the nobleman was not paid, so he decided to seek revenge. He took a young slave boy to be raised in a monastery, with the idea of one day making that boy tsar of Russia. That child, long known as Vasili, is none other than Dimitri himself and, if he prefers not to be revealed as a slave, and the son of a slave, Dimitri must marry Vanda. For the nobleman who killed the real Dimitri and took the young slave to the monastery is none other than the Count of Lusatia himself. On hearing this, Dimitri grabs a knife that is lying on the table and stabs the Count. He orders the body to be taken away. Vanda, disguised as a soldier, follows as his body is carried out. Just then, Marpha appears; she recognises the body of the man who took her son from her. Alone with Marpha, Dimitri questions her: is he her son? He refuses to appear before the people to receive the keys of Moscow from the boyars, unless Marpha dispels his doubts.

Act IV – second tableau

The camp. As the curtain rises, the men are striking camp. Bright sunlight. In the background, Moscow, with its golden domes. The crowd fills the stage. National anthem.

The people acclaim Dimitri and Tsarina Marpha. The boyars have presented them with the keys of the city. Vanda observes the scene and swears she will be avenged.

Act V

Inside the courtyard of the Kremlin. On the left, the Kremlin; on the right, St Basil’s cathedral. As the curtain rises, there are lights on at the windows of the Kremlin. The night is almost over, the first glimmer of dawn is visible on the horizon. Beneath a broad balcony, opening on the left onto the salons of the Kremlin, stands Vanda, clad in dark clothing.

Vanda, her heart devoured by jealousy, makes threats against the two lovers, who seem to be so happy and confident in their good fortune. The Count of Lusatia appears; he was only wounded by Dimitri and has survived, nursed by Vanda. The coronation is about to take place. Job stops Dimitri at the entrance to the cathedral; he asks Marpha to swear on the Gospel and on the Cross that he is indeed her son. She hesitates, and that moment of hesitation precipitates the dénouement. The Count of Lusatia, armed with a musket, appears with Vanda on the balcony of the Kremlin. On seeing the Count, Marpha hastens up the cathedral steps, intending to swear that Dimitri is her son. But a shot rings out and Dimitri falls to the ground. He dies in doubt as to his identity: ‘Marina! Mother! Alas! You alone will tell me the truth, O God!’

    Persons - 2
  • BORNIER, Henri de (1825-1901)
  • SILVESTRE, Armand (1837-1901)
  • Work - 1
  • Dimitri (Silvestre & De Bornier / Joncières)