St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Rusalka


opera by Antonín Dvořák

Performed in Czech (the performance will have synchronised Russian supertitles)
 

Performers

Conductor:

Christian Knapp

The Mermaid: Maria Bayankina
The Prince: Igor Barbakov
The Water-Sprite: Mikhail Kolelishvili
The Princess: Maria Solovyova
Ježibaba (Baba Yaga): Varvara Solovyova

World premiere: 31 March 1901, Národní divadlo (National Theatre), Prague
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 28 April 1959 (performed under title Big Love in Russian, translated by Sophia Ginsberg)
Premiere of this production: 15 July 2009


Running time 3 hours 20 minutes
The Performance has two intermissions

Age category 6+

Credits

Music by Antonín Dvořák
Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil

Stage Director: Alexander Maskalin
Production Designer: Sergei Grachev
Lighting Designer: Kamil Kutyev 
Costume Designer: Tatiana Yastrebova
Musical Preparation: Larisa Gergieva
Chorus Master: Pavel Teplov

SYNOPSIS

SYNOPSIS

Act I
Not far from the hut of Ježibaba, Rusalka sits forlornly on the shore of the lake. The wood nymphs have awoken the old Water-Sprite, Rusalka’s father, with their singing, and he has swum to the surface of the lake. Frightened, the nymphs depart, and Rusalka tells her father of her grief. She has fallen passionately in love with a handsome prince and is ready to do whatever it takes just to be with him. She wishes to acquire a human soul. The Water-Sprite is dismayed: this love will bring his daughter much woe and grief. Because having a soul means to suffer! However, touched by his daughter’s prayers, he sends her for advice to Ježibaba. Rusalka sets off for the old woman. The latter agrees to assist, but on a certain condition: when she becomes human, Rusalka will have no power of speech, and if she loses the love of the Prince she will be transformed into a will-o’-the wisp of the swamp and lead her beloved to death. Rusalka agrees to the risks. The transformation is complete. As the sun rises over the lake, the Prince appears, having got lost while on a hunt. He sees the beautiful maiden, and, falling in love with her at first sight, he takes her to his castle.

Act II
AT the castle, the Prince is preparing for his wedding. The servants are all discussing the event in as lively a way as could be imagined, and are surprised by the mysterious appearance of the bride. The bride is downcast. A beautiful and coquettish Princess who is visiting the castle is taking up more and more of the Prince’s attention. The ball begins, and celebratory music can be heard while the guests make merry in a carefree whirlwind of joy. The Water-Sprite, who has stolen into the park, sees with pain how his daughter is suffering in silence. Rusalka tries to draw her betrothed to her side, but he rejects her. In front of Rusalka, her eyes filled with misery, the Prince declares his love for the Princess. Rusalka runs from the castle, protesting to the Water-Sprite of her betrothed’s infidelity. The Water-Sprite if filled with wrath, and he curses the Prince to die; taking his daughter with him, he disappears into a deep whirlpool.

Act III
Rusalka returns once more to the lake in the woods. She has been transformed into a will-o’-the wisp and is cursed to roam eternally. Ježibaba offers to remove the curse; to do this Rusalka must kill the Prince. But could she raise her hand against the man who means more to her than life itself? The Hunter and the Kitchen-Boy come to Ježibaba. They ask for medicine for the Prince who is dying from woe: his transitory fascination with the Princess has passed, and the Prince’s thoughts belong to his bride who has vanished without trace. The Water-Sprite drives the servants away, but soon the Prince himself appears at the lake. He calls on Rusalka, and she appears from the watery depths. The Prince joyfully advances towards her but she stops him. Rusalka still loves her betrothed passionately. She forgives him her suffering. Her touch will be fatal to him. But the Prince does not need a life where his beloved does not exist. He kisses Rusalka and dies in her arms.


When the opera title Rusalka appears on the theater bill, it's essential to specify which one. Two Slavic composers with matching initials created operas with this title: Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1855) and Antonín Dvořák (1900). Dvořák's opera is based on a libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil, a prominent Czech poet, playwright, and director, who freely adapted motifs from the story Undine by German writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1811), Andersen's fairy tale The Little Mermaid (1837), and Gerhart Hauptmann's play The Sunken Bell (1896). Although Kvapil's libretto is set “in a fairy-tale land at a fairy-tale time,” the Bohemian landscape is clearly discernible. The ultra-romantic story with a hint of symbolism and West Slavic national color could not fail to appeal to Antonín Dvořák, the founder of the Czech compositional school, who created his ninth and most successful opera around the turn of the century.
Dvořák called it a “lyric fairy tale,” accurately conveying the dual nature of his work: Rusalka is an opera about fantastical beings and human emotions. Its themes include devotion and betrayal, hope and disappointment, selfishness, and love. At the same time, it's a genuine magical fairy tale about a young water nymph and her formidable father, the water sprite, about the terrifying witch, lively forest nymphs, and, of course, a prince with a castle, servants, and courtiers. This multidimensionality makes Rusalka an opera for all ages, a composition for both children and adults.
The nearly sixty-year-old Dvořák wrote Rusalka quickly and with enthusiasm. Like many composers of his generation he experienced the infusion of Wagnerian style but retained a unique, recognizable Slavic intonation – heartfelt and melancholic. Wagner's continuous type of dramaturgy in his work is combined with a plethora of rounded operatic numbers: songs, arias, ensembles, choruses, dances. The opera's gem is Rusalka's touching aria Song to the Moon from the first act, often performed in concerts. Also well-known are the Prince's aria A wonder, a marvelous image (first act), the Water Sprite's aria The whole world cannot replace you (second act), and the Witch's aria Hubble, bubble, toil, and trouble! (first act). The remarkable plot twist for the opera genre – the muteness of the central character for a significant portion of the stage time! – does not deprive the title role of its paramount importance. Dvořák bestowed music of extraordinary beauty and poignancy on the key role performer. However, the water nymph can sing only in her element; her world is the forest lake, the weeping willow, the flooded meadow. To depict this world, Dvořák uses a lavish orchestral palette, turning the opera's instrumental accompaniment into a picturesque late-Romantic symphonic poem.
Dvořák's Rusalka is beloved and performed worldwide; the imagery of this operatic fairy tale also resonates closely with the Russian audience – for a unique, special reason. The tender, delicate, inexperienced, and slightly cool Czech Rusalka seems like a sister to our beloved Snow Maiden. Russian classical composers – Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky – undoubtedly inspired the Bohemian master. The resonance with Russian music gives the Czech operatic masterpiece, performed on the St Petersburg stage, a particular charm.
At the Mariinsky Theatre, Rusalka is presented in the Concert Hall. Despite its chamber nature, the production leaves a vivid visual impression – primarily thanks to the costumes and lighting. The cool green-blue mermaid colors are contrasted with the fiery and aggressive black-red tones associated with the world of humans. Dvořák's music itself becomes the main decoration, where the splash of waves and the rustle of leaves can be heard, where the moonlight and the wandering light, into which the abandoned but ever-loving Rusalka transformed, seem visible. Christina Batyushina


Rusalka
on the playbill
26 April 2024, 19:00
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