Rusalka on Tour

13 Oct

This is the third outing for Melly Still’s production of Rusalka and she has been around each time to work on the piece and, each time, there have been differences.  Some of them have been obvious – Vodnik’s costume has been different each time (and I’m not convinced that any of them have really worked).  Others have been less so and there were points where I saw things that I didn’t quite remember from last time but couldn’t swear that my memory is faulty or that I just hadn’t noticed them.  Because this was the tour, some of the more elaborate effects had gone but it still makes for a pretty good attempt at the opera.

It’s not a favourite opera of mine.  What I find most interesting is the destruction of ideals, the almost Pygmalion-ish sense of two people reaching for what they can’t attain and it destroying them.  I find the more supernatural elements more difficult and, to be frank, the opera’s on the long side – all that stuff with the wood-nymphs goes on a bit and while you might need some light relief in Act III, so does the Gamekeeper/Jezibaba scene.  There is lots of gorgeous music but, again, it goes on a bit.

Still’s production is strong on the narrative and produces lots of memorable images.  It doesn’t seek to impose a particular view on the work, which has its strengths, but also misses some of the outstanding images that David Pountney’s production for ENO managed (or the sense that I got in a production in Bratislava a few years ago of a destruction of nature by Rusalka’s actions).  I’d like to see still more of a contrast between the human world of Act II and the (super)natural world of the forest in Acts I and III – the tension doesn’t come across quite strongly enough – but it’s still a good, strong production.

Often Glyndebourne’s tour performances can have virtues that the Festival performances lack – more uniform casting, sometimes a stronger ensemble feel and a chance to put right things that weren’t quite right.  I didn’t think it quite achieved that here: it’s not an easy piece, requiring strong voices and sheer heft that isn’t quite within their resources.  The Prince, for example, requires almost Wagnerian strength with a tenderness as well. Ladislaw Elgr doesn’t quite have either but he made a brave, committed stab at the role: he knew what it was about and acted it strongly and that counts for much.  Wioletta Chodowicz doesn’t have the sheer beauty of voice that other Rusalkas have possessed but, again, put the role across committedly and caught the sheer loneliness in Act II (Still makes her appear almost dowdy compared with the rest of the court) and the despair of the last act.

Mischa Schelomianski has been Vodnik in all the incarnations of this opera at Glyndebourne and is sympathetic and powerful – overcoming the disadvantages of the costume.  Anne Mason was outstanding as Ježibaba.  She may not have the sheer richness of tone that Diadkova brought to this role, but the intensity and colour that she brings is fabulous – I thought she was particularly fine in the final act where her scene with Rusalka caught a bitterness and anger.  Why is she so comparatively under-used by our major companies.  Tatiana Poplavskaya had sung the Foreign Princess at the Festival and was marvellously glamorous and bitchy, singing with complete security – stealing the show, as she ought to, in that act.  It’s also worth mentioning Robert Poulton’s really excellent Gamekeeper – bringing authority to the role and making much more of it than others.

Jakub Hrůša knows the work well and I couldn’t fault his conducting.  The orchestra sounded slightly rougher than, say, the LPO but gave a perfectly decent account of the piece.  The chorus was excellent.

So this was a good, strong evening and my guests, who didn’t know the opera, loved it.  It’s great the Glyndebourne are touring it – it must be am opera that stretchest them pretty much to the limits when it comes to the tour – and I hope that audiences there will flock and enjoy the opera.  In the meantime, however, there seem to have been quite a lot of Rusalkas recently – the Glyndebourne, Opera North and the ROH have all produced it in the last 4 years.  Is there any chance now of seeing Devil and Kate or The Cunning Peasant or even a return of The Jacobin?  Glyndebourne would be an ideal place for any of those.

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