Dvorák: Rusalka

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Myrtò Papatanasiu, Pavel ∫ernoch, Annalena Persson, Willard White, Renée Morloc, Ekaterina Isachenko, YoungHee Kim, Nona Javakhidze, Julian Hubbard; La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Adám Fischer; dir. Stefan Herheim (La Monnaie, 2012)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2059928; Blu-ray: 2059924

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Self-consciously ‘original’ producers are in fact slaves to fashion, such as reducing romantic imagery to sleazy urban low-life. Stefan Herheim is only the latest to turn Dvoπák’s lyrical woodland tragedy into a tacky brothel fantasy, and he does it with expensive gloss and contemptuous camp. The wood becomes a rain-drenched city street, its wood-nymphs dancing sex-dolls and bloated prostitutes-cum-knife-wielding-nuns, the prince and his followers distinctly pretty sailor boys, the Huntsman a stoned hippie, and Rusalka herself a fantasising streetwalker who comes on to her bourgeois father, the Watersprite. He stabs the Prince and later the Princess and is hauled away by police. The Gamekeeper and Turnspit’s roles are distributed, confusingly, among casual passers-by, including a priest, nuns and a – ludicrously British – policeman.

The cast throw themselves into it with admirable energy, but it’s simply too calculated and posturing, a chilly exercise. Rusalka can certainly stand reinterpretation, as for example Melly Still’s recent Glyndebourne staging and David Pountney’s famous psychological production have demonstrated, but they maintained their connection with Dvoπák’s emotional language. This treats it as background at best, incidental to the concept, with no heed to what’s being sung – in approximate Czech – at all.

It’s a shame, because musically this isn’t at all bad. Adám Fischer’s conducting is smooth, rich and idiomatic, his principals good. Myrtò Papatanasiu hasn’t quite the ideal purity of tone, but she has as much passion and vulnerability as the staging allows. Pavel ∫ernoch is a bright-toned, handsome Prince, and Willard White still a rich-voiced Watersprite. Renée Morloc’s Jezibaba and Annalena Persson’s Foreign Princess are more ordinary, and the extravagant minor roles redundant. There are other less crass productions on DVD, including David Pountney’s for ENO, to head to first.

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Michael Scott Rohan