Antonín Dvořák - Rusalka
Robin Ticciati, Melly Still, Sally Matthews, Evan Leroy Johnson, Alexander Roslavets, Patricia Bardon, Colin Judson, Alix Le Saux, Zoya Tsererina, Vuvu Mpofu, Anna Pennisi, Altona Abramova, Adam Marsden
Opus Arte - Blu-ray
Based on a fairy-tale suggestive of some troubling undercurrents, opera productions of Rusalka have consequently seen a wide variety of interpretations and inspired some of the most dark and imaginative stage productions I've ever seen in opera. Unquestionably that approach is very much supported by the fire of Dvořák's music, a glorious melodic concoction that conjures up not just a magical fantasy world or a deeply romantic one of deep emotions, but also hints at a young woman being mistreated and abused. Unlike Martin Kušej (Bavarian State Opera, 2010) or Stefan Herheim (La Monnaie, 2012), there are no bold or radical reinterpretations of the story here in Melly Still's Glyndebourne production, but playing to the sweep of drama, with Robin Ticciati conducting and Sally Matthews singing the title role, the production nonetheless finds a way to unleash the opera's considerable inner forces.
It's so well realised here - musically and visually - that you can see clearly how Dvořák's orchestration of myth and legend corresponds to the Wagnerian method right from the opening Act. With a little more of a reliance on folk and tradition, Dvořák nonetheless uses the same kind of power of music aligned to deep mythological themes in the very Das Rheingold-like opening of Rusalka, the water nymphs here the equivalent of the Rhinemaidens, tryannised by the Alberich-like water goblin Vodnik (Alberich). Rusalka's dream of the redemptive power of love making us human is also as powerful and charged (and as fatal an attraction) as Senta's dream of the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer.
Using marvellous theatrical techniques and emphatic drive and musical colouration, director Melly Still and conductor Robin Ticciati hammer home the Wagnerian force of those mythological Romantic sentiments at the key moments. With its lush orchestration and fairy-tale setting, Rusalka begs for just such a magical treatment and Glyndebourne delivers. There's plenty that is impressive in the Das Rheingold inspired gleaming blues and greens of the water world of Rusalka, her mermaid sisters descending with long tails and floating above the stage in an impressive coup de théâtre. And while it has you in its grasp, Rusalka sweeps down on wires to kiss the Prince in a dreamlike scene that almost leaves you breathless.
There's little to fault then in the impact that the Glyndebourne production achieves, where the ideas are kept relatively simple and in service of the musical drama. While you have to give credit to the singers doing acrobatics on wires, there is however not really a great deal of imagination in staging or in illustrating the darker themes of the work. The set retains a pit at the centre, a reminder of the water home that Rusalka can't quite escape, so you could also see that as something of an emotional void that holds the woman in the power of others, manipulated and exploited to some extent. Even the fact that there are dark 'invisible' figures moving Rusalka around in choreographed movements can be seen to highlight this.
The focus however is very much on expressing the deep emotional undercurrents of the work and the central tragedy of the work comes in Act II when Rusalka begins to lose her charm and mystery over the Prince as he becomes distracted by the more obvious attractions of the Foreign Princess in a Brünnhilde/Siegfried way. As if that's not heartbreaking enough, Vodnik rubs it in with his "I told you so". For this to have maximum impact it just needs the musical and singing forces to be in place and Sally Matthews is by no means only one of the cast to impress here, her silence through most of Act II in particular giving the other roles a chance to shine. Evan Leroy Johnson has a lovely heroic tenor quality that invites more sympathy for the Prince than disappointment. Zoya Tsererina is an excellent Foreign Princess who only needs to be glamorous and hit those notes to work, and she does both very well.
If you are focussing on getting to the heart of real human emotions over any kind of concept to illustrate it, Rusalka finding her voice at the end of Act II always has a visceral impact and Sally Matthews makes it count here. Matthews has been an asset to Glyndebourne for a number of years now and impresses here yet again. I can't testify to her Czech but her performance here as Rusalka is lovely, delving into the heart of the character, making her dilemma heartfelt with beautiful singing. Having achieved maximum impact, Act III consolidates what has come before musically and scenically with a reprise of the water nymphs descent, but if the conclusion is truly effective in its tragedy it's down to the touching performances from Sally Matthews and Evan Leroy Johnson that make it feel almost devastating.
It helps of course it the music also pushes the singing to those heights and musically I've never felt the Wagner influence on Dvořák so pronounced as it is here under Robin Ticciati. There's a fullness of the orchestral sound that comes through very well in the Opus Arte Blu-ray's Hi-Res stereo and surround audio tracks. Visually, the High Definition image is also impeccable, capturing the mood of the stage lighting. The usual Glyndebourne behind-the-scenes featurettes has interviews with cast and crew with a look at the descent of the water nymphs scene. An excellent essay in the booklet covers the writer Jaroslav Kvapil's efforts to get Czech composers interested in his libretto with consideration of how other productions have treated the dark subject of the fairy-tale in recent years.