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Dvořák's Rusalka

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Antonin Dvořák, Rusalka, Renée Fleming, Opéra National de Paris (2002)
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Antonin Dvořák, Rusalka, English National Opera, directed by David Pountney (1986)
The first opera that really interested me in the fall season (see our Opera Preview) is something I would really like to see live sometime, Antonin Dvořák's fairytale opera Rusalka. (It has been produced in the United States, by Houston Grand Opera and the Met, but I haven't been able to go.) If I could manage a trip to Europe this month, which I can't, I could see two different productions, the 2002 Robert Carsen staging (then with Renée Fleming in the title role, the first production of the opera in Paris, a hundred years after its premiere) revived at the Opéra National de Paris (September 9 to 27) and a Czech production shared between the Prague National Theatre and Prague State Opera (performances spaced out from September 1 to June 12).

Simon Corley was at the Paris premiere and wrote a review (Histoire d'eau, September 9) for (my translation):
Robert Carsen, who was responsible both for the staging and, assisted by Peter van Praet, the lighting, delighted in this universe rich in symbolism, with a work not deprived of lightness and irony, centered on the opposition of two worlds, on reflexions and illusion, where the princess and even the nymph do not seem like the common archetype of captivating woman, culminating with the second-act ballet, in a nightmarish bacchanalia choreographed by Philippe Giraudeau. The direction of the actors, however, seemed less emphatic, at pains in particular to fill the immensity of limpid and purified space in the first act.
The singing in general was good, especially that of Russian soprano Olga Guryakova, replacing La Fleming in this revival after a well-appreciated performance in Prokofiev's War and Peace last season, received many enthusiastic ovations. Slovak tenor Miroslav Dvorsky was "less comfortable for his Parisian début" as the Prince.

Apparently we have Renée Fleming to thank, not only for Rodelinda, but also for bringing Rusalka to the Met in 2004. Premiered in 1901 in Prague, Rusalka sneaks in under the wire as a 20th-century work, and its kinship with Pelléas et Mélisande, although I doubt there is any real connection, is striking (probably through a shared admiration for Wagner). I recently watched the DVD of the English National Opera's production (the second one shown to the left). The work has an ethereal harp part, generally beautiful orchestration, and some wonderful writing for its trio of women's voices in the three nymphs. David Pountney's staging is based on a psychological reading of the fairytale (a combination of the Undine legend and Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid), which works quite well, in spite of the incomprehensibility of ENO's usual English translation and the occasionally poor sound quality.

The Paris production also featured the premiere of a new policy instituted by the director of the Opéra national de Paris, Gérard Mortier, now in his second season. I remarked before on a recent trip to Paris that you could buy last-minute obstructed view seats at the Garnier but not at the Bastille (believe me, I tried). In fact, on that trip I heard La Fleming in an astounding production of Capriccio, for 7 €, which is less than the price of a movie ticket in Paris. Now, there is a special machine in the Bastille lobby, too, where 45 minutes before curtain, you can attempt to purchase 62 possible standing room tickets for 5 € (maximum of two tickets per person, without reservation, of course). Renaud Machart wrote a little article (Une soirée debout à l'Opéra pour 5 euros, September 11) for Le Monde about the experiment turned out, which was pretty well. I will definitely try doing this the next time I am in Paris. Now, why exactly can't you do this, Washington National Opera? Sell off those unused seats, right there at the Kennedy Center box office, for $10 each.

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