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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fearful Symmetry; or, Be Careful What You Wish For
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...
Published on 19 Feb 2004 by J Scott Morrison

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Most reviews have not seen Czech productions
Musically this production is alright, but the production bears no relation to the opera of Dvorak. Anyone who wishes to see how it should be staged should watch either of the Czech productions, either the film which is a delight to the eye, or that staged in Prague opera house in 1998. The latter is excellent in every way, and has a very fine bass.
Published on 4 Oct 2008 by Mr. Robert Smith


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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fearful Symmetry; or, Be Careful What You Wish For, 19 Feb 2004
By 
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
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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.
Recommended.
Scott Morrison
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reissue of Fleming's 'Rusalka', 20 Jun 2009
By 
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
[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.

Recommended.

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)

Scott Morrison
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A.A.A.A !!, 19 Jan 2011
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This review is from: Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
I love this opera and for me having heard and seen Renee Fleming in the role, there could be no-one else to equal her performance !It was magic and very moving.I agree with the other review that every single voice was top quality, particularly Franz Howlata,who plays Rusalka's Father.Loved the production although it may not appeal to all ( but nothing ever does ).A DVD not to be missed !!!!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through a glass darkly, 25 Dec 2007
By 
Loge (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
Rusalka is a lush, late-Romantic, almost Wagnerian (particularly in its moments of brassy grandeur and use of leitmotifs) lyric opera. Here the singing and acting are nigh on perfect. Rusalka has become a signature role for Renée Fleming and what familiarity with this opera there is in the UK probably comes from the frequent repetition of her famous rendition of the "Hymn to the Moon" on Classic FM. Here it's sung with far greater urgency, intensity and huge passion at the end. Her whole performance is quite enthralling and the reverses she suffers are therefore deeply moving. But hers is far from the only exquisitely lyrical moment in the piece: I'm thinking in particular of the Prince's questioning (but lyrical) outbursts to Rusalka at the end of Act I ("Vidno divnà, presladká"/ "Divine vision, sweetest being" and "Vim, ze jsi kouzio"/"I know you're nothing but magic") and the ecstasy of the final, fatal encounter and "liebestod" and Rusalka's plea for mercy for the Prince. Sergei Larin is a fine Prince, his voice - to my ears - perfectly judged for the vicissitudes of his desires and the status of the two central women at court. His acting is compelling. The Foreign Princess is played with gloating malevolence and knowing innuendo by Eva Urbanova. Franz Hawlata is an imposing Water Goblin - and properly threatening when the time comes - and Larissa Diadkova's Jezibaba adds just the right touch of playfulness to the amorality - or worse. But she presents a surprisingly ambivalent Jezibaba (and thankfully with none of the squawlliness of the divas who really should have retired who are sometimes cast in this role).

There is not a weak voice in the lesser roles. Particularly impressive are the three highly Wagnerian wood nymphs - Michel Canniccioni, Svetlana Lifar and Nona Javakhidze - playing games with their bedding and pillows (they've just woken up) and stomping around merrily in their pond.

More questionable is the staging. This is not exactly a "lyrical fairy tale". Events take place in a non-specified recent past. At the start of Act I four women (Rusalka and the wood nymphs) are sleeping around a formal oblong pond (it should be a lake). Way above them on the ceiling is a double bed flanked by two lamps which is reflected beneath itself as if standing on a glass floor. This is what Rusalka is looking up to when she sings to the moon. When Jezibaba has cast her spell the walls pull away and the bedroom descends around Rusalka. I take this - and much subsequent imagery - to be showing that whilst Rusalka desires human love what she's going to get also includes human sex. But it also means that the Prince has gone hunting in his own palace and renders meaningless much of what is actually said before and during his first meeting with Rusalka (and that the Water Nymphs and Goblin have all come along to the Palace too). I don't think directors need to be tied to original stage directions, but I do think that variant stagings need to link credibly to the sung text. Similar problems occur throughout and possibly skew the character of central figures (why are the Water Goblin and Jezibaba so pally at the end - and what was he doing in her bedroom?! Perhaps these two are the key to unwrapping this production as an extended metaphore of the - innevitable - loss of innocence of a child (Rusalka as water nymph) as she becomes an adult (Rusalka as fiancee). They have to permit this because she has asked, but they impose limitations, punish her when she goes too far and pronounce sentence on the Prince for his abuse of Rusalka's vulnerability).

And at the end of this staging we are back in the Prince's bedroom when we should be by the lake - and the Prince doesn't die....

Does this matter? Essentially I think not (though something should have been done about the problematic hunt scene). As a whole the production is totally engrossing with some gorgeous visual imagery, clever staging (perhaps sometimes too clever) and striking dramatic moments. Throughout Act II (which takes place around the - doubled - double bed) the stage is cut in two, the right a mirror image of the left, doubled actors on the right going through identical motions as the singers on the left-hand side of the stage. Occasionally a character will appear in one of the bedrooms only, so, for example, whilst the Foreign Princes belittles Rusalka and seduces the Prince in the left-hand bedroom Rusalka watches with increasing dismay and anger from the right. The repeated mirror imagery seems to symbolise a number of dualisms/opposites: human/supernatural, love/sex, male/female, good/bad, innocence/knowing. But there can be a cross-over from one to the other. When the Foreign Princess first appears she enters the right-hand stage whilst the Prince and Rusalka are on the left. Then she and Rusalka exchange places. Perhaps the strongest visual image occurs when Rusalka is standing in the middle of the stage, the Prince and Foreign Princess in the right-hand bedroom, the Water Goblin and Jezibaba (!) in the left. The two bedrooms pull apart leaving Rusalka alone in an empty black space, a no-man's-land, with the two rooms getting further away from her.

The mirroring is carried over into the women's clothing and hair. At first the Foreign Princess and Rusalka are in identical white ball gowns with long flowing hair, later they are both dressed in outfits identical to Jezibaba's with the same wild hair.

The more I watch this the more enchanted with the staging I become. The pluses in interpretation - and sheer imagination (the quirky ballroom scene, the decking of the bed with roses (which picks up a later reference to the now-damned Rusalka's flower being the lily not the rose) - far outweigh the occasional disjunction between word and image. This is highly recommended. Traditionalists should try it too because fairytales really are more sophisticated than children think.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly sung performance and production from Paris, 8 Nov 2003
By 
J. Aitken (Glasgow Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Having attended one of the performances which were recorded, it is a delight to have such a marvellous recording on DVD. The sound quality is excellent, the performances exemplary in a modern production which gets to the heart of this wonderful work.
Bravo.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous production, 22 Feb 2004
By 
Michael Bo (Frederiksberg Denmark) - See all my reviews
I was stunned as I watched Robert Carsen's Jungian and stylistically unsurpassed staging of 'Rusalka' in Paris. And not less now that it's available on a gorgeously produced DVD. Some of the grandeur of designer Michael Levine's sets is impossible to recreate in a format that demands a variety of shots, long-shots, medium-shots, close-ups, but what we see is magnificent and tellingly so in the context of Dvorák's luckless mermaid.
In the first act the water surface is broken in a perfectly horizontal mirroring of a peach-coloured, utterly tasteful petibourgeois dream of human solidity and, well, a sort of happiness. When Rusalka enters the bedchamber, finally as a human being in her own right, the mirroring is vertical, so that everything that takes place around the marital bed is mirrored on the other side of the room. In the penultimate scene - as beautiful as any you're ever likely to see - the doublebed, turned over bedlamps, carelessly strewn red roses and messy sheets are hung on the back-wall, suggestively lit through gaze. A trophy? An eternal reminder of base human horniness?
What the close-ups do that an actual performance always have a hard time trying to do is get us up close and personal with the protagonists. This is, after all, a very human story of repressed sexuality, dreams and sublimation. Renée Fleming, enveloped in Dvorák's warm and sensual orchestra amidst evocative pizzicati, fully exploits her melancholic timbre with an instrument so well-focused and slender as a moonbeam.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Most reviews have not seen Czech productions, 4 Oct 2008
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Mr. Robert Smith "robert smith" (ashby de la zouch) - See all my reviews
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Musically this production is alright, but the production bears no relation to the opera of Dvorak. Anyone who wishes to see how it should be staged should watch either of the Czech productions, either the film which is a delight to the eye, or that staged in Prague opera house in 1998. The latter is excellent in every way, and has a very fine bass.
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5.0 out of 5 stars LIKE, 12 July 2014
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This review is from: Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Very good CV
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dvorak: Rusalka DVD 2009, 30 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
This is a fine performance by one of the greatest sopranos ever and Renee Fleming is backed by an excellent cast of singers in an exceptionally imaginative production. I absolutely loved it and will treasure this filmed record of such a wonderful singer.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fleming, best Rusalka ever !, 15 Aug 2004
By 
E. Fijneman (Geertruidenberg Netherlands) - See all my reviews
I loved this DVD from the beginning until the end! Renee Fleming is, in my opinion, the best Rusalka of all time! In the beginning you have to get used to the modern stage-setting, but this is really a recommendation for all Dvorak fans!
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Dvorak: Rusalka [DVD] [2009] by Renée Fleming (DVD - 2009)
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