Met Opera's "Rusalka": Turning the Other Czech

Kristine Opolais in "Rusalka"
(photo: Ken Howard)

The mysterious and under-appreciated opera Rusalka, a surprising turn from the Composer Antonin Dvorak, with a Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil, based on the novella Udine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque, was the latest Fathom Events HD broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera. The Production was by Mary Zimmerman, with Set Design by Daniel Ostling, Costume Design by Mara Blumenfeld, Lighting Design by T. J. Gerckens, and Choreography by Austin McCormick, featuring as always the Metropolitan Opera Chorus under the direction of Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. It was Directed for live cinema by Gary Halvorson with Matthew Polenzani as the HD Host. It was a revelation to many opera buffs not familiar with the work, perhaps due to its relatively strange storyline, though it certainly reminds one of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Little Mermaid. Its tone, however, is decidedly darker, and this is an opera, so a happy ending is never guaranteed.

The water nymph Rusalka (soprano Kristine Opolais) falls in love with a human, a Prince (tenor Brandon Jovanovich) whom she sees swimming in her lake, motivating her desire to become human. Her father the Water Gnome (bass-baritone Eric Owens) is horrified and tells her of the evils of living on land. He directs her to consult the Witch Jezibaba (mezzo Jamie Barton), who agrees to the transformation but warns Rusalka that if she fails to find true love, she will be damned, the man she loves will die, and, once mortal, she will lose her power of speech. Rusalka drinks the potion given her by Jezibaba. The Prince arrives with his hunting party, and, stunned by her beauty, takes Rusalka back to his castle. The Water Gnome and his water nymphs bemoan her loss. Once in the castle, Rusalka is sent by the Prince to dress for a ball, though he cannot grasp why she won't speak to him. She flees back to her father, telling him the Prince doesn't seem to love her anymore.
The Prince returns to the lake with a Foreign Princess (soprano Katarina Dalayman) and declares his love for the Princess, rejecting Rusalka, who disappears with her father into the lake. The Princess ridicules the Prince, telling him to follow his love into hell. Later, Rusalka begins to regret her fate. Jezibaba offers her a knife with which to kill the Prince, but she refuses, returning to the depths of the lake. When the Gamekeeper (baritone Alan Opie) and the Kitchen Boy (mezzo Daniela Mack) arrive at the lake seeking help from Jezibaba about this girl who has bewitched their Prince, the Water Gnome arises from the lake, blaming the Prince for bewitching Rusalka. Then the Prince himself arrives searching for Rusalka, who reappears to castigate him for his infidelity. She warns him that a kiss from her now would kill him, but he persists in asking for same. Once she kisses him, he dies in her arms. Asking for mercy for his soul, she disappears into the water one last time.

Obviously with such a slight story full of such fantastical and mythical creatures, with three of four overly long ballets that interrupt the storyline, this opera has to deliver some memorably lovely music, beautifully sung. Here Dvorak, and the Met, don't disappoint. Opolais was brilliant, as was Jovanovich, both in their singing and acting. Owens was at his dependable best, as was Barton (though her acting was at times distractingly over the top). The rest of the cast and chorus were up to the demands of the lush music, which was wonderful to hear, notably in Rusalka's best-known solo aria, Song to the Moon:
Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far,
You travel around the wide world,
and see into people's homes.
Moon, stand still a while
and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily
let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away,
and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!
If his human soul is in fact dreaming of me,
may the memory awaken him!
Moonlight, don't disappear, disappear!

One hopes this nymph will reappear.

Fathom Events HD Encore broadcast on Weds. Mar. 1st at 6:30pm at a theater near you.

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