RUSALKA ANTONIN DVORAK
GLYNDEBOURNE OPERA HOUSE. SUSSEX ENGLAND
A winter's tale on a very hot summer evening, but that is what opera is about; make you believe in anything that is happening on stage. I am a sucker and am willingly taken in and enthralled, no effort required. And what a delicious winter night was presented.
RUSALKA was in the doldrums for years and years and now thankfully in the last decade or so has been discovered, rightly as it is a wonderful work. Glorious music with a moving story. Witches and princes and fairies, what more could anyone want in Glyndebourne's pretty new opera house tucked in the Sussex Downs.
Dvorak's last opera is musically thrilling, luscious and haunting, and Jiri Belohlvek's conducting perfectly filled the house with the lilting tunes and mysteriousness of middle Europe's woods and waters. The orchestra could have been made up of elves and goblins, fairies and dryads; the sounds were so earthy and sweet.
The singing was stupendous, that goes for everyone, and surely Rusalka's entrance from the flies in a dress rippling to the ground, yards long as though she was a waterfall splashing down, must be one of the best coup de theatre ever. Suddenly we are with her in the water. Her huge long aria to the moon she sings lying on the ground as if floating on the surface of a pool, her immense dress trailing across the entire stage, it was moved and twitched by a group of darkly dressed personages from the woods. Ana Maria Martinez singing the role was quite as beautiful in her movements as with her singing.
Then, as the witch Jezibaba with her magic gives Rusalka her freedom to become human and her watery dress vanishes among the tree trunks, disaster strikes. Too near to the front of the stage Rusalka tripped and dived into the orchestra pit with a shattering scream, crashing down onto an unfortunate cello player and their instrument.
That stopped the performance instantly. A black curtain fell. We lolled around the gardens for an hour whilst the understudy was dressed and taken through her moves. The performance continued, for, as we all know, the show must go on, but as Rusalka has been struck dumb, part of the magic, the understudy did not have a great deal more to sing until late in Act 3.
The house manager announced that Rusalka was merely bruised but all right but had gone to hospital for check up. The audience cheered and the performance rolled its way to the end.
Yes, even without this added drama, it is a good production. Not the best ever. Sometimes I wonder if we need such complicated and slick design? Not that I am in anyway a minimalist but so often today design can overpower the music. It is all so urban and clever and this set looks more like a very expensive trade fair promotion, the forest looks as though it is made from telephone poles, the forest floor is hard and sloping impossibly, [hence the accident,] and the trees light up as if it is Christmas in a shopping mall. Rae Smith is a clever designer but perhaps she should have taken a walk in a forest before coming up with this stylish set of semi art.
The movement is good, they don't call it dance any longer, and the lighting was all right. The costumes, except for the tremendous dress of Rusalka seemed more suitable for a disco than a palace, though perhaps that is what they do in palaces these days?
Never mind the London Philharmonic played like angels, and the singing of the Prince, tenor Brandon Jovanovitch was bewitching. It must be awful for non-Czech singers to learn their lines
And outside as it grew dark the tress whispered in the late evening breeze. Wood pigeons chortled their way to roost. Small animals scurried in the hedges. They should have played this out of doors
A most lovely work.
Polly Hope. London