Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Rusalka - A Lyric Fairy Tale in three acts Op.114 (1901) [156:00]
Rusalka: Kristine Opolais
Prince: Klaus Florian Vogt
Water Goblin: Günther Groissböck
Ježibaba: Janina Baechle
Foreign Princess: Nadia Krasteva
Gamekeeper: Ulrich Reß
Kitchen Boy: Tara Erraught
Wood Nymphs: Evgeniya Sotnikova, Angela Brower, Okka von der Damerau
Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Bayerisches Staatsorchester/Tomáš Hanus
rec. Nationaltheater Munich, Germany, 20-26 October 2010
Direction: Martin Kušej
Sets: Martin Zehetgruber
Costumes: Heidi Hackl
Lighting: Reinhard Traub
Sung in Czech with subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen Sound: LPCM/DTS-HD 5.0
UNITEL CLASSICA 706504 BLU-RAY [156:00 + 36:00 (documentary)]
Having read Nick Barnard’s exhaustive review, which gives chapter and verse of this opera production in the DVD format, I will not go into any detail on the opera itself and will comment on the production in the Blu-ray format I have viewed.
Dvořák’s Rusalka is for me one of the great operas of the nineteenth century, or would be if it hadn’t been composed in 1901! It belongs to the earlier century in its musical style and is typical of the composer in his last years. It contains much great music besides its one hit, “The Song to the Moon”, that is trotted out to show off any soprano worth her salt.
Plenty of invective has been hurled at this production and it has also garnered some praise, though I can’t see why, for the staging nearly ruins what Dvořák undoubtedly intended the opera to depict. I can see him rolling in his grave during the mounting of this production. That said, the singing and orchestral playing throughout are fine. Kristine Opolais is a superb Rusalka with the right kind of lyric voice and is beautiful to watch, that is, if she weren’t singing to a desk lamp instead of the moon and floundering around in a fish tank! I would love to see her in a decent production of the opera. All of the cast are good both in singing and acting, the latter which requires some bizarre postures to say the least. The presentation of the folk ballet in the second act is the most preposterous of all with the dancers in white dancing with skinned deer corpses and smearing blood on their costumes. Yes, the best way to appreciate this production is with the video turned off. In general, I have an aversion to “modernizing” operas or plays, to say nothing of the utter distortion that a production such as this perpetrates. Operas can be produced with minimalist staging, as long as they symbolize what the composer intended, and still be very effective. The Jenůfa I recently reviewed for this website was such a case. This Rusalka, I’m afraid, is just in bad taste.
I have not seen the DVDs of this production, but the picture on this Blu-ray is brilliant and life-like. The characters fairly jump off the screen and you feel you could touch them, not that you would necessarily want to. The water imagery is vibrant and the reflections are shimmering. The sound, too, is excellent with a good balance between the singing and the orchestra. The opera comes on one Blu-ray disc and two in DVD format, and also includes the documentary on making of the opera by the Bayerische Staatsoper general manager, Nikolaus Bachler; the stage director, Martin Kušej (who was responsible for the production); the costume designer, Heidi Hackl, and members of the cast. They all seem to believe in the production more than I ever could, though, they would have to - or at least claim to. Unlike the DVDs, according to Nick Barnard’s review, my copy of the Blu-ray did not include any liner notes, but only a sheet with a listing of the numbers corresponding to the chapters on the Blu-ray. In addition to the documentary, the Blu-ray includes trailers of three other opera productions and a Vienna Philharmonic concert of Beethoven with Christian Thielemann conducting. As far as technical matters are concerned, the last note of Act II seems to be cut short as it ends more abruptly than the version on CD with which I am familiar. The very end of the opera is also strangely presented with its water imagery and children’s laughter in the background, and there is no applause or current call. There is applause after each of the first two acts.
My suggestion is to skip this Blu-ray and hope that something better comes along, even though I would dearly miss Opolais’ performance. Vocally and as an actress she is at least the equal of the best of former Rusalkas. Maybe she will do this role again before long in a more traditional production. As far as CD is concerned, I will be happy to stick with the Mackerras/Czech Philharmonic version on Decca with Renée Fleming as the Rusalka. I am also a real fan of Gabriela Beňačková, who recorded the opera with Václav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic, but I have not heard that one or at least not in recent memory. In both cases, though, the inimitable sound of the Czech Philharmonic is a definite advantage. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester under Czech conductor Tomáš Hanus turns in an excellent performance, too, if without the idiomatic lightness and warmth of the Czechs. Just listen to those mellow horns on the Mackerras recording to hear the difference.
Leslie Wright

see review of DVD release by Nick Barnard and Ian Lace 

This Rusalka is a travesty as a production, though its musical values are high.