I once heard an ABC Classic FM announcer say “Dvorak simply writes lots and lots of lovely melodies.” Rusalka despite being through-composed and not having quite the same delineation between aria and recitative as earlier operatic tradition might have dictated, is full of lovely melodies including the song to the moon one of the most popular “arias” and high on the ABC’s Swoon 100.
The most engaging of all operas I have ever attended
It was novel to be almost part of the stage in an operatic setting. The chairs in the Anglican Church in Church St Richmond (Melbourne) initially faced the rear of the church for the first act, showing a rustic lakeside setting for the water sprites and elves. At the end of the first act we were asked by an actor/narrator speaking in verse to turn our chairs around for the formal setting of the prince’s palace which the tiled floor and formal church furniture lent itself to very well. Then again for the third act we turned around again. With the singers using the aisle to make entrances and taking the action to the audience instead of having to get out the opera glasses to see a stage over 100 metres away I have to say it was the most engaging of all operas I have ever attended.
Excellent singing from young performers
XL Arts productions mission is to give young students and performers starting on their careers a chance to perform in a large production. To this end the singing of the younger performers was excellent for the most part, with only a few minor intonation problems. The acting amidst the constraints of operatic demands was very good although there were still some of the stylised operatic gestures which somehow always seem to me to be a little plastic or stilted. Remarkable though, was the fact that the singers all having done an intense course in Czech language pronunciation over the last three months, sang the opera in its original language. In a particularly good cast of singers, I especially noted Rusalka and the Prince singing with accuracy and passion. In addition the three elves sang with excellent ensemble and character giving their role of commentary on the main plot conviction.
A surprisingly full sound from the chamber orchestra
The chamber orchestra of one violin, one cello, one clarinet doubling on bass clarinet, one oboe doubling on cor anglais, a harp and a piano, gave a surprisingly full sound in the lovely live acoustic of this venue. I did not miss the full orchestra at all and as a chamber production there was even an element of beautiful translucence amidst the excellent ensemble playing. The arrangement of the full orchestral score worked extremely well and certainly convinced me musically.
An evening of excellent music and entertainment
I suspect that the plot for the popular Walt Disney “The Little Mermaid” may have come from the libretto of this opera as the story line involves the water sprite (Rusalka) falling in love with the handsome prince and wanting to feel his embrace. The witch allows this to happen on the condition that Rusalka loses her voice (sound familiar!?). The prince eventually betrays Rusalka and seemingly prefers the rival princess thus rejecting Rusalka. However, in the final act the prince searching for Rusalka, finding her, embraces her leading to his death as she upon her return to the land of water sprites has become a demon of death. This has a tragic end much darker than the popular Walt Disney “Little Mermaid” plot, but the final section of the opera contains some of the most beautiful music ever heard in opera. In amidst all the drama and passion the comic commentary on the plot is provided by the game keeper and the cook who amusingly meet the witch in the final act.
This was an evening of excellent music and entertainment which I thoroughly enjoyed and I have to say that if this is the calibre and performance quality of XL Arts productions, I for one will ask to be put on their list for any of their future events.
XL Arts Inc. presents Rusalka | Friday 19 June 2015 | St Stephen’s Anglican Church Richmond (Melbourne)