Dvorak’s masterpiece lyric opera is about a water nymph who wants to transform herself into a human being to know the love of a prince. That formula has been used for myths of a Slavic water-sprite, Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, Jean Giraudoux’s Ondine, Disney’s Ariel and other fairy tale heroines who have attempted brave transformation into human forms, only to be dashed and doomed into eternal disappointment.
Rusalka is a wave in the water, a beam from the moon, the ultimate in romantic fantasy, a being that truly puts her whole self into a love relationship.
Rusalka (Kristine Opolais) dwells in the Met’s opera Mary Zimmerman’s production in a lush fantasy world, with her Water Gnome father (Eric Owens) and her dancing sisters - green garbed sprites who sprint about along watery ponds in a deep dark dense forest.
She meets the prince (Brandon Jovanovich) while he was trying to shoot a white doe in the forest and makes a Faustian bargain—to remain mute forever— with the local forest witch Jezibaba (Jamie Barton wearing a black dress suitably decorated with spider webs woven pattern), so that she can become human and be with him.
The flip side is if things go downhill, she will be doomed forever.
From this habitat, Rusalka emerges to bright sunlight fields, now re-born as human wearing only a simple white sheath, as the prince lifts her in his arms and carry her off to happiness.
In Act II at the elegant palace, Rusalka is now dressed in a fine jeweled white shimmery gown for her to princess role, as befitting a moon goddess symbol.
Rusalka finds that being human is more complicated than she thought. The prince has invited a foreign princess (Katarina Dalayman) to their wedding. Her fully human rival is determined clever woman, skilled in seduction and appropriately dressed for the part in fiery red satin.
Rusalka’s contract with the witch was that she remain silent, an amazing acting challenge for the lead soprano for the entire Act II. But the pain of confusion and rejection prove too much. Breaking her silence, her fine clothes now torn and tattered, she leaves the prince and all that other stuff that fairy tale princesses seem to have happily settled in to, to return to who what she is in her realm.
The prince now ravingly ill, follows her into the dark wood. The flip side of her deal with the witch, eternal doom for all will now enfold as Rusalka and The Prince sing one of the dozen most beautiful operatic duets. She exits after donning his coat, all that remains for her, a memory.
On re-thinking, is the mythical Rusalka really any more a fairytale than the “realistic” fictional characters — Butterfly and Boheme—roles to which Kristine Opolais has brought her unique interpretations. (Yes, she’s the one that performed both within the same 24 hours on short notice and only 5 hours of sleep between).
Sure, we can feel bad for Rusalka, something which the text of the opera reminds of periodically — but truthfully, we are awash with the beauty of Dvoark’s finest opera.
When Opolais is asked about the difference in her roles, she has said Puccini has her heart but Dvorak has her soul. Her performance as Rusalka says she sings the truth in her art from both her heart and soul for all of us.
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Season at a Glance: The Met: Live in HD 2017-18
Norma (October 7 at 12:55 p.m.)
Die Zauberflöte (October 14 at 12:55 p.m.);
The Exterminating Angel (November 18 at 12:55 p.m.);
Tosca (January 27 at 12:55 p.m.);
L’Elisir d’Amore (February 10 at 12:00 p.m.);
La Bohème (February 24 at 12:30 p.m.);
Semiramide (March 10 at 12:55 p.m.);
Così fan tutte (March 31 at 12:55 p.m.);
Luisa Miller (April 14 at 12:30 p.m.);
Cendrillon (April 28 at 12:55 p.m.).
All ten operas will be Saturday matinee performances, transmitted live from the Met stage. All start times are Eastern Time; for local start times and rebroadcast information, please visit https://www.fathomevents.com in the next few months for more details on tickets.