[Note: You can now get a box-set of DVDs of Fleming at the Paris Opera in Manon, Rusalka and Capriccio for a very reduced price: Renee Fleming At Paris Opera [Renée Fleming, Marcelo Álvarez, Jean-Luc Chaignaudr] [Arthaus: 107529] [DVD] [NTSC
[This is a reissue on the Arthaus Musik label of a production of 'Rusalka' previously issued on TDK which I reviewed in 2004. It is, as far as I can tell, identical with the earlier DVD. I append my earlier review.]
Dvorák's 'Rusalka' is by far his most effective opera and the only one that has made its way in the non-Slavic world. Based on de la Motte Fouqué's fairytale, 'Ondine,' but with additions from Hans Christian Andersen and the Czech ballads of K. J. Erben, and with a symbolist libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil, Dvorák's music captures the story's ecstasy and anguish perfectly. Briefly, it is the story of a water nymph who falls in love with a Prince who visits the lake where she, her three sisters and her father, the Water Spirit, live. She wishes to become mortal so she can be with him and implores the witch, Jezibaba, to grant her that wish. Jezibaba does so but with two provisos: she will become human but lose the power of speech, and if her lover rejects her she will be forever cursed. Well, the Prince initially loves her but, dismayed by her muteness, is soon won over by the blandishments of the evil Foreign Princess, so Rusalka, with her father's help, flees back to the water world. Jezibaba tells her that her only way of extracting revenge is to kill human males by kissing them and when the Prince, who has seen the error of his ways, comes to reclaim her, she warns him (having gotten back her voice) that she cannot come with him because her kiss would be fatal. He says that to 'die upon a kiss' would be the only way he could ever attain peace. They sing a rapturous duet, she kisses him and he dies. Curtain.
Rusalka is a signature role for Renée Fleming; her audio recording of the opera six years ago was a huge hit. This production, from the Paris Opéra, conducted by James Conlon, followed in 2002. The direction of Robert Carsen and set and costume design by Michael Levine emphasize the duality and symmetry of the mortal and fairy worlds. In Act I, which takes place at the bottom of the enchanted lake, the stage set is designed with a vertical symmetry, rather like the reflections seen at the water's surface when one is submerged. In Act II, which occurs in a stylized palace, there is left-right symmetry with the singers on the left side and mute actors mirroring them on the right side. Quite effective, if sometimes unintentionally reminiscent of the famous mirror act done by Groucho and Harpo Marx. Still, it conveys visually the mirroring of the real and fairytale worlds whose inability to merge leads to the final tragedy.
The musical presentation is spectacularly good. Fleming, of course, is superb. Her two main arias, the famous 'Hymn to the Moon' and the Act III 'Vyrvana zivotu" ("I am torn from life") are stunningly beautiful. Her ecstatic final duet with the Prince, sung by Sergei Larin, is equally marvelous. Larin is in very good voice and has the requisite heft to manage the almost Wagnerian tenor role as the Prince. There is not a single weak member of the rest of the cast. Huge-voiced basso Franz Hawlata is touching as Rusalka's father, the Water Spirit. Larissa Diadkova is properly impish as the comic witch, Jezibaba. Eva Urbanova, strangely the only Czech in the cast of this quintessential Czech opera, is scary as the evil Foreign Princess. The three Wood Nymphs, as Wagnerian a trio as one can find outside the 'Ring,' are well done by Michelle Canniccioni, Svetlana Lifar and Nona Javakhidze. The Kitchen Boy, a pants role, is well-done by Karine DeHayes. It is particularly gratifying to see and hear the venerable French tenor, Michel Sénéchal, as the Gamekeeper. The Act II ballet, neatly carrying forward the mirror-image theme of the production, was crisply choreographed by Philippe Giraudeau and danced by the corps of the Opéra Ballet. The video direction was by François Roussillon; it is unobtrusive and natural.
I was both charmed and intrigued by this production. 'Rusalka' is slowly becoming better known throughout the world and I suspect this DVD of the Paris production will help further its spread.
Total time: 155 mins; Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.0, or DTS 5.0; Subtitles: English, German French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese; Menu language: English; Picture format: 16:9; Region 0 (worldwide)