Dvorak: Rusalka

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorák
WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Eduard Haken, Milada Subrtová, Ivo Zídek, Alena Míková, Marie Ovcaciková, Jadwiga Wysoczanská, Eva Hlobilová, Vera Krylová, Jirí Joran, Ivana Mixová, Václav Badnár; Prague National Theatre Ballet, Chorus & Orchestra/Zdenek Chalabala; dir. Bohumil Zoul (TV
CATALOGUE NO: SU 7008-9
Not everyone likes lip-synced opera films, but the technique justifies itself in allowing realisations as imaginative as this. Rusalka’s forests are brought atmospherically alive by overlaying their supernatural denizens semi-transparently on scenes of real woodland and water. It succeeds, without recalling an elderly Dr Who show, because they’re so skilfully integrated, in gray-green hues reflecting Dvoák’s orchestral watercolours. Act II’s authentic castle actually works less well, its earthbound daylight showing up some very ’70s costuming and makeup, plus the odd lip-syncing glitch.

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On the whole, though, such flaws are easily overlooked – not least because the soundtrack is Supraphon’s splendid 1961 recording, warmly conducted by Chalabala (his last), with Milada <=ubrtová the most convincingly youthful Rusalka on disc, Ivo Zídek’s ardent Prince and veteran Eduard Haken, who more or less owned the role of the Watersprite. He alone plays himself, and despite some vocal unsteadiness his tortured, humane characterisation is deeply impressive. The actor counterparts are equally convincing, the Rusalka tragically lovely and vulnerable, and ‘singing’ with a realism the Prince and Princess don’t quite match.

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This straightforward rendering of the tale is the more welcome because its DVD competitors both reinterpret it as psychodrama: Robert Carsen’s heavy-handed Paris staging, its international cast headed by Renée Fleming, sets it in a sterile hotel environment; on the other hand David Pountney’s English-language ENO version (Kultur: USA only) brilliantly treats it as a Victorian fable of puberty. Only this idiomatically Czech version seeks to realise Dvoák’s own imagination, and despite its period tinges, including subtitles from Jindrich Elbl’s antique translation, I enjoyed it enormously. Michael Scott Rohan