Prom 3: Dvorak's 'Dimitrij', Royal Albert Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

It is soon obvious that the sequel to Boris Godunov is by Dvorak, not Mussorgsky. Light and air suffuse the orchestral prelude.

It is soon obvious that the sequel to Boris Godunov is by Dvorak, not Mussorgsky. Light and air suffuse the orchestral prelude. The people of Moscow may be racked with a "terrible sorrow" by the loss of their tsar, but the strings, woodwind and vocal inflections suggest their readiness to dance a furiant. Dvorak's geniality was hard to suppress. Mother Russia was rarely jollier.

Dimitrij, his sixth opera, has never been staged professionally in the UK. The centenary of his death is now upon us, yet only the faithful know what they have been missing, and only they turned out for this pitifully attended performance. They were rewarded with lush ensembles and eminently singable music, but Dvorak could never manage the heart of darkness central to most satisfying music drama. There wasn't a malevolent bone in his body.

The problem with Dimitrij is that the political upheaval, treachery and tragedy are woefully undercharacterised. The weight of Russian history sits very lightly on its shoulders. Take the scene in Act II when the pretender's wife, Marina, flaunts her Polish heritage at the coronation ball. The quarrel that ensues between the Russian and Polish guests could have made for a cracking operatic punch-up, yet here is reduced to a peppy Slavonic dance with vocal obbligato; Bohemian Gilbert and Sullivan.

At least the Slovak Philharmonic Choir, flown in for the occasion, gave the words and rhythms a lift. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Richard Hickox reciprocated with spirited playing, though I have to say that Hickox's advocacy of the piece was too general. It needed a more specific, authentic cut and thrust.

But I wouldn't want to downplay the sheer lyric delight of so much of the music. The stars of the evening were undoubtedly the women - though the promise of the Australian Heldentenor Stuart Skelton cannot be denied. His is a beautiful voice used with the utmost discretion but without, as yet, much interest or temperament. That was forthcoming in abundance from the Marina of Elena Prokina - an actress first, singer second. Her arrival upped the ante, and the scene in Act III when she begs Dimitrij to stay turned the evening round dramatically.

The best singer on stage, though, was Krassimira Stoyanova as Xenie Borisovna, the tsar's daughter - a stylish, Slavic Mozartian of great intensity (Covent Garden take note) and the ideal antidote to Dalibor Jenis's villainous Sujsky. Dagmar Peckova brought her usual gravity to the role of Ivan the Terrible's widow Marfa, leading a final ensemble of near Verdian sumptuousness. Except for the one missing ingredient: theatre.

Proms to 11 September; Prom 3 available online until Sunday (020-7589 8212; www.bbc.co.uk/proms)

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