Sally Matthews, Alexander Roslavets, Evan Leroy Johnson, Patricia Bardon; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Robin Ticciati; dir. Melly Still (Glyndebourne, 2019)
Opus Arte OA1302D & OABD7266D 153 mins
Director Melly Still understands that fairy stories have many meanings and wisely resists the temptation to impose a single ‘reading’ on her Glyndebourne Rusalka, a deeply satisfying production of Dvořák’s late masterpiece. Spectacular to look at, too, with death-defying stage flying.
If we do read the opera as an exploration of patriarchy, with Vodnik a stiff-necked father to Rusalka, and the Prince, for whom she becomes human, hard-wired to use women for pleasure, then that emerges from a drama that is seamlessly self-contained in Still’s production. For once the much-recorded ‘Song to the Moon’ is integral to the action; while the closing pages of the score blaze rather than smoulder with Robin Ticciati and the LPO playing their hearts out as the Prince begs Rusalka for the kiss that will bring death.
Sally Matthews is magnificent. She may not sing Rusalka as ‘beautifully’ as others have, but she is a consummate performer. During the Act II court ball her moral and social confusion is palpable. And her sorrowful return to the lake in the last act to be reviled by her water sprite sisters would melt the winter ice. Evan Leroy Johnson is a puppy of a prince, but properly trained when he sings both duets with Rusalka. And Patricia Bardon as the witch Jezibaba, seemingly an apple-cheeked wise woman, rips the hearts out of the animals required for the brew that will turn a water sprite into a woman. Fairy stories are rarely well-mannered – this Rusalka is no exception.