Dvorak: Rusalka

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Kristine Opolais, Klaus Florian Vogt, Nadia Krasteva, Günther Groissböck, Janina Baechle, Ulrich Reb, Tara Erraught, John Chest, Evgeniya Sotnikova, Angela Brower, Okka von der Damerau; Bavarian State Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Tomás Hanus (Bavarian State Opera, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: C Major DVD: 706408 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format); Blu-ray: 706504 (1080P HD; dts- HD 5.0; 16:9 picture format)


Productions of Dvorˇák’s most popular opera abound these days. David Pountney’s landmark production for ENO from the 1980s showed that Rusalka was far from being a simple fairy tale. Certainly, the librettist, Jaroslav Kvapil, deeply absorbed by the plight of women, thought of it as an allegory, even if Dvorˇák did not. Martin Kus˘ej’s Munich production goes further than any I have seen in externalising the darker aspects of the story. The starting point is the horrific incarceration of his daughters by Josef Fritzl in Amstetten: thus Dvorˇák’s moonlit forest is exchanged for a gloomy, water-logged cellar in which Rusalka is trapped. The metaphor does not really work effectively for much of the opera and the production often descends into tasteless banality: the end of the opera is played out in an insane asylum and the second-act ballet is performed by dancers, male and female in wedding dresses, paired with the skinned and eviscerated corpses of deer. The relentless pursuit of the director’s theme means that the production rarely approaches the beauty, humour or even the poignancy of the score.


Whatever reservations one might have about the production, the performance as a whole is remarkable. The cast has clearly bought into the producer’s concept and they deliver a devastating ensemble performance. Kristíne Opolais as Rusalka is vocally superb and acts magnificently. Janina Baechle as the witch Jezibaba and Günther Gröissbock as the Water Goblin bring a terrifyingly psychopathic dimension to their roles. Tomas Hanus draws some wonderful playing from the Bavarian State Orchestra and paces the musical-dramatic flow flawlessly. The accompanying documentary is fairly routine, but goes some way to illuminating the background to this gruelling reading of a radiant masterpiece. Jan Smaczny