Theatre Royal, Glasgow
5 / 7 / 9 April
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
14 / 16 April
Imagine the relief & euphoria when the Bay City Rollers arrived in 1975, giving the teenybops a chance to enjoy rock & roll music apart from the serious-minded, unsmiling rockers of the post-glam mid-seventies. In the same way, there is something so joyously & eternaly childlike about Rusalka, the crowning glory of Antonín Leopold Dvořák’s search for a definitive expression of the Czech ‘anima’ for opera. Indeed, me & the missus have been chatting about taking the girls to an opera, but at 6 & 8 we felt it was maybe too soon. However, despite Rusalka being dressed up in the sonic & aesthetic garb of cultural maturity, it is still a children’s tale, which taps into the child still in us all. A perfect choice, then, for our bambino’s first opera.
A fantastic fable, Rusalka is a mermaid who falls in love with a prince – the perfect fairytale fare. Its librettist was the Czech poet, Jaroslav Kvapil, who while staying in Denmark in 1899 began to re-read the tales of Hans Christian Andersson, including the Little Mermaid. Of his lyric fairytale he produced, Hannah Nepil writes, ‘it is no surprise that Kvapil wrote his libretto for the rebuilt national theatre. He made a point of describing Ruslaka as a quintessentially Czech work in the tradition of Karel Jaromir Erben, a writer loved for his macabre, folk-like ballads. Indeed, the rhythm of Kvapil’s language conjures up the Czech bards’s, as does one of Rusalka’s main charaters, Vodnik, on whom Erben based one of most gruesome poems.’
I cannot praise highly enough how excellent was the stagecraft. I loved the simple shapes that dominate the visualities – the oval pool, the straight-lined trees, the circular moon, were so simple they were practically hypnotic. To this were added the monstrously brilliant internationally renowned talents of Sir Williard White, whose dread-locked water-goblin, Vodnik, was a wonder. ‘Poor Rusalka, caught up in this dazzling world,’ he mourns wistfully as his unsullied daughter gets caught up in the sticky webbing of human relations. “Souls sin,” he tells her, “But souls love,” she replies.
Rusalka herself, played by Anne Sophie Duprels, was a voluptously beautiful lead, while her Prince, peter Wedden was unfortunately a little, well, wooden. the rest of the chorus, cast were top notch however, while choreographer Lucy Berge’s all-singing, all-dancing nest-haired dryads buzzed about the stage like graceful gazelle, while Clare Presland’s kitchen boy was a class act.Yes, I must admit, Ruslaka was a completely riveting watch.
This production is full of clever little touches, such as Rusalka’s bloody legs after she’d had her tail hacked off, & the stagecraft is the real star of the show. Its been over half a century since Rusalka paid her first & only visit to Scotland (1964), which is a bit of a travesty really. Perhaps there is a certain snobbery about Czech opera, admittedly it is not as lyrical as the Italian, or musically stirring as the German, but a s a mystical sonic spectacular Rusalka trancends them all. Amidst it all, as well, we may hear the magnificent aria, the ‘Song to the Moon,’ which is nothing short of divine.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
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