By Lynne Gray, PhD
Monday, April 13
Dvořák’s Rusalka ~ 2Hrs and 52Mins
Starring Renée Fleming, Piotr Beczała, Dolora Zajick and John Relyea; conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. From February 8, 2014.
Otto Schenk’s storybook-like production beautifully evokes the fairy-tale world of Dvořák’s romantic opera. Soprano Renée Fleming, in one of her most acclaimed roles, takes on the character of the water nymph who longs to be human. Piotr Beczała is the spoiled Prince who is the object of her affection. John Relyea sings her father, the Water Gnome, Vodník, and Reno’s own magnificent mezzo, Dolora Zajick, is the witch Ježibaba, with Emily Magee is the Foreign Princess.
The story of this opera should be familiar for it and Disney’s The Little Mermaid are both based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 story of the same name – which itself was based on even older Slavic myths. The characters in the opera are referred to by their generic names from Slavic mythology: ‘Rusalka’ means water nymph, usually inhabiting a lake or river and ‘Vodník’ is a water sprite or gnome, while ‘Ježibaba’ is the standard name for a witch. The opera is far closer to the old myths than it is to Disney’s saccharin The Little Mermaid – and so it is definitely darker.
The water nymph, Rusalka, has seen a human Prince hunting around her lake and fallen hopelessly in love. She wants to become human so that she can embrace him and confides this to her father, Vodník. He explains what a terrible idea that is since all humans are evil and full of sin. Rusalka believes they are full of love and when she insists, Vodník tells her he will not help – she must go to Ježibaba. Rusalka sings her famous “Song to the Moon,” asking it to tell the Prince of her love and goes off to see Ježibaba. Ježibaba reminds her that there will be consequences. By becoming mortal, Rusalka will lose her power of speech, and in addition, if she does not find love with the Prince, he will die, and she will be eternally damned. She naively accepts and drinks the potion. When he comes upon her at the lake, the Prince is instantly captivated and even though she cannot speak, he takes her away with him to his castle.
At the castle, we see that a wedding is being planned, but there are already signs of trouble. The Prince is more and more disturbed by Rusalka’s inability to talk and express her love for him. When a Foreign Princess arrives for the wedding and mocks Rusalka’s silence, the Prince begins lavishing his attentions on the princess. He cruelly rejects Rusalka, but then the Foreign Princess rejects him for his inconstancy and tells him to follow his bride to Hell.
The distraught Rusalka returns to her world and again seeks out Ježibaba who hands her a knife and tells her that the only way to save herself now is to kill the Prince. To discover the decidedly un-Disney-like ending, watch this beautifully done operatic fairy tale.
1. Dolora Zajick and Renée Fleming as Ježibaba and Rusalka in Dvořák’s “Rusalka” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
2. Piotr Beczała and Emily Magee as the Prince and the Foreign Princess in Dvořák’s “Rusalka” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.
3. Renée Fleming and Piotr Beczała as Rusalka and her Prince in Dvořák’s “Rusalka” at the Metropolitan Opera. Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.