Friday, February 24, 2017

Ready for Rusalka

I am prepping for tomorrow’s Live in HD presentation of Dvorak’s Rusalka. I know the story; I know the Song to the Moon; I know the title water nymph is a signature role for both Renee Fleming and Kristine Opolais; and that’s about all I know. This week, I listened to the official Met Podcast (rather yawn-ful) and the new He Sang, She Sang podcast from WQXR—both available at their respective websites or wherever you prefer to download your podcasts. (I need to write more about He Sang, She Sang—a delightful new and somewhat irreverent effort that helps us understand opera without taking it too seriously and being boring—they also give us some nifty singer interviews (e.g., Luca Pisaroni, Diana Damrau, Kristine Opolais)).

Then, I looked to YouTube to find a full performance. The Schenk/Met performance with RF is there, along with the Czech film (probably worth a later look) and the Carsen Paris production. I started with the Met, but the combination of the awkward set (I kept waiting for someone (or creature) to stumble and fall into the pond) and RF’s rather odd acting choices put me off quite early. I love RF; but honestly, I never would rank her among the world’s top acting singers. So, I decided to head for Paris, also with RF but in a much more interesting production.

I had to laugh at one negative Amazon reviewer (of many nay-sayers) who preferred to see a  “realistic” production. How does one do “realistic” witches, water nymphs, and goblins? I think it’s a bit pedantic and disingenuous* to insist on a “realistic” setting for an opera that is a fantasy based on a fairy tale. Contrary to what some might say, most (if not all) fairy tales are allegories. I love an applause-worthy set as much as anyone, but all the glitz and glam and fancy “realistic” and/or traditional sets can’t make up for a dull performance.

Meanwhile, in Paris, Robert Carsen is neither the first nor will he be the last to update Rusalka (for better or for creepier (e.g., Kusej)). I know Mr. Carsen’s work is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I happen to appreciate his setting here; and I think he always comes through with reliable, thoughtful Personenregie**. The set and costumes are not specific to any time or place (and there are no chairs in this production); and the production conveys the psycho-subtleties of the story quite well—especially using a variety of mirror-images to convey the water world vs. the real word. This may not be the production for a first-timer or a literalist, but I was fascinated. As I noted above, Renee Fleming stars in this production; and Mr. Carson seems to bring out her best, helping her provide a much more engaging performance here than in her (more recent) Met recording. And I find little-to-no fault with the singing or the acting of rest of this ensemble. (One writer says their Czech pronunciation is not ideal, but how would I know?)

Other bloggers and reviewers have provided thoughtful and entertaining accounts of this performance. So rather than trying to quickly organize my own thoughts (and probably accidentally plagiarizing my fellow bloggers in the process), I will point you to a one review from my blog-buddy earworm. You can find other insights around the interwebz.

This video transfer is not optimal, and the subtitles are en Español; however, one can find an English translation easily online. I am not linking directly to the YT post, because that makes it too easy for the video police. Besides, it’s easy to find it with a few key search words. That said, go watch (and listen to) it. Or better yet find it on DVD. I expect it to be a good complement to the new Met version.***

 *I couldn’t decide which word to use. I liked them both, so I decided to go for it.

**Speaking of Personenregie I was just thinking how awesome it would have been if Robert Carsen had directed L'Amour de Loin! 

***I’d promise to write a review of the new Met performance, but I think it’s safer not to just now. Then we’ll all be happily surprised if/when I do. 


  1. How does one do “realistic” witches, water nymphs, and goblins?

    18th century gowns, perhaps? ;-) good to see how back. I have to check out the podcast.

    1. I guess that's the key! It's good to be back. I hope you enjoy the podcasts. I particularly liked the Romeo et Juliette program.

    2. I started with the Salome one. It wasn't bad, especially as an introduction to the opera.

    3. Oddly, that's the ONE I haven't listened to. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for posting. Sorry the "prove you're not a robot" thingie is making life difficult.


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