Dvorak: Rusalka

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, Franz Hawlata, Dolora Zajick, Eva Urbanová.Czech PO & Chorus/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: 460 568-2


It is surprising that there are so few recordings of this ravishingly beautiful score. This issue is the first to be made for 15 years and there were never more than two recordings available at any one time. A great deal is special about this new recording, not least the astonishing level of detail in the orchestral accompaniment, but for dramatic flexibility and sheer emotional involvement it rarely approaches Chalabala’s landmark recording of 1961. Mackerras clearly loves the score: it would be hard to imagine, for instance, a more opulently beautiful reading of the ballet and choral music in the second act (readers will also be relieved to know that the balance is a great improvement on Mackerras’s recent recording of Katya Kabanova with the Czech Philharmonic), but there are times, notably in the more extended solo numbers, when the pace flags. There is fine singing from an international cast: at times Renée Fleming’s attractive rendition of the title role becomes self-indulgent, while Ben Heppner, as the Prince, clearly has problems with Czech, and is inclined to allow his rich, ringing tone to hang on a little too long at the ends of phrases. The remaining roles are mostly excellently sung, though for me Franz Hawlata’s Water Goblin is rather too Wagnerian in cast. There is certainly a great deal to enjoy and learn from in this recording, but for an authentically theatrical experience of this glorious opera score, Chalabala’s magnificent National Theatre recording still stands unchallenged. Jan Smaczny