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 Dvorak, Rusalka : at the Norwegian National Opera, Oslo 11.9.2009 (GF)

Directed by Paul Curran
Costumes and scenography by Kevin Knight
Light design by David Martin Jacques


Rusalka – Solveig Kringlebotn
Prince – Miroslav Dvorsky
Foreign Princess – Itziar Galdos
Water Sprite – Magne Fremmerlid
Jezibaba – Randi Stene
Game-keeper – Svein Erik Sagbråten
Turnspit – Signe Sannem Lund
First Wood Nymph – Mariann Fjeld Olsen
Second Wood Nymph – Anne-Carolyn Schlüter
Third Wood Nymph – Julia Faylenbogen
A Hunter – Ulf Øien

The Opera Chorus and the Opera Orchestra / Eivind Gullberg Jensen

Solveig Kringlebotn (Kringelborn) as Rusalka

The Norwegian National Opera opened their second season in the new opera house in Bjørvika with a Norwegian premiere – Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka. It is no doubt the composer’s best known opera and most people with some interest in opera are at least familiar with the soprano aria from the first act, O silver moon, as it is known in English. But this is far from an isolated ‘hit’. The whole score is truly inspired with flowing melodies, delicious orchestration and dramatic expressivity. The Water Sprite’s aria in act II is a wonderful piece for a good bass and should be as often heard as the soprano aria and there are fine opportunities for all the leading singers throughout the work. If there is anything at all that I could do without it is the three Wood Nymphs’ long scene in the last act. These three females are Dvorak’s answer to Wagner’s Rhein Maidens; they even make fun of the Water Sprite in the first act, much the same way that the Rhein Maidens do with Alberich. Let me hasten to add that the three young singers in Oslo were very good, singing as well as acting, but in the end the scene felt overlong.

The story, briefly: The Water Nymph Rusalka has fallen in love with a prince and she wants to become human. Jezibaba, the witch, promises to change Rusalka into a human being but in return she must be dumb in the human world and if the prince betrays her they will both be cursed and she will not be able to return to the waters she came from. The prince appears and falls in love with her. In the second act a foreign princess decides to destroy their relationship. The prince falls in love with her and Rusalka is heartbroken. In the last act Jezibaba appears and tells Rusalka that she can become a water nymph again – if she kills the prince with a knife. Rusalka refuses and is doomed to live among the living dead. The prince has gone mad but returning to the wood he is restored to his senses. He meets Rusalka and wants to kiss her but Rusalka tells him that her kiss will kill him. The prince insists anyway, she kisses him and he dies.

This tragic fairytale is in opera director Paul Curran modelled as an allegory, describing a young girl’s insight that life as a grown up can be filled with adversity and sorrows. During the overture the curtain rises and we see a little house with the front wall removed in usual theatre manner. The house is exposed against a black starry sky with a full moon. We know that Rusalka is going to sing her O silver Moon to the satellite before long. In the house the girl is playing, seemingly light-heartedly, with her dolls. But when her father – I believe – leaves the room she changes attitude and for a while contemplates her own reflection in a full-size mirror, before going straight through the mirror an disappearing. The house sinks down in the ground, the stars and the moon disappears and we are transported to a magical wood. The atmosphere is mystical and evocative, shadows and flickering light, and the same setting returns in the last act. The second act, playing the castle of the prince, opens with a comic scene where the Game-keeper and the Turnspit are laying the table for the guests. This is in sharp contrast to the horrifying humiliation of Rusalka during and after the party. Scenically this is a riveting production that rhymes well with Dvorak’s lavish music, and change of scenery is elegantly managed through the state-of-art stage machinery.

The young Eivind Gullberg Jensen leads a well paced performance and he isn’t afraid of letting the sweet melodies come to the fore, but since Rusalka has intrinsic dramatic potential there is no risk of sentimentality. The choral forces are admirable and the orchestra play as though Dvorak’s music was everyday fare for them. There are two alternating teams of singers for this production and I saw the more ‘international’ one.

Solveig Kringlebotn (or Kringelborn as she is known internationally) has been one of the most distinguished Scandinavian singers for quite some time now. I hadn’t heard her in the flesh for several years and it must be said that she has lost something of the youthful freshness that characterized her singing in the 1990s. The vibrato has also widened somewhat. Against this must be stressed that her ability to colour the voice to express varying emotions has increased further and she is a brilliant actor. O silver moon was sung with delicacy and sensitivity and all through the evening she excelled more through the fine nuances than outward histrionics.

Miroslav Dvorsky, who sang in his mother-tongue, was a brilliant prince with gleaming top notes though he wasn’t free from strain and refused to sing anything softer than a forte. Not until the final duet, when death was imminent, did he scale down to some beautiful pianissimo phrases.

Randi Stene was a formidable witch and Spanish soprano Itziar Galdos portrayed the foreign princess with dramatic accuracy. As the water sprite Magne Fremmerlid sang and acted with authority as well as warmth, and Svein Erik Sagbråten and Signe Sannem Lund never missed a point in their comic appearances.

seems in vogue at the moment. Glyndebourne mounted the opera in August and the last week of November the Finnish National Opera will premiere a new production. I’m looking forward to renew the acquaintance with this sad but lovely opera.

Göran Forsling

Picture courtesy of Norwegian National Opera

Note: The day before the performance of Rusalka my wife and I were privileged to see the new opera house – also behind the scenes. A report will appear within a few days.


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