“Rusalka” at SF Opera
“Rusalka” at SF Opera
“Rusalka”, a Czech opera by Antonin Dvorák, is the third of a trilogy of summer operas running through June, 2019, at the San Francisco Opera. Of the three the best known and loved is “Carmen”. The other two, “Orlando” by Handel and “Rusalka”, are less performed,.
““Rusalka” was first here in 1995 with Renée Fleming in in 1995. This season it comes back with a new production by David McVicar and a superb Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role. This “Rusalka” with its able cast and technical staff is simply fabulous. It is a turn-of-the 19th century opera in the mode of “The Little Mermaid” or “Undine” with it water filled settings and fantastic fairy tale characters. It is a product that shows Dvorák’s love for myths and fairy tales that express very human emotions.
“Rusalka” is a wood nymph whose father the Water Goblin Vodnik (Kristinn Sigmundsson) advises her to go to the forest witch Ježibaba (Jamie Barton) to facilitate her dream of becoming a human and experiencing love. But when witches are involved, the story is never simple. Rusalka sings the most famous aria of the opera asking the moon to help her find her true love.
But it is Ježibaba who will make this come true but under two conditions. There are always conditions in deals like this. First Rusalka may not speak again and second that she can never to return to the water where her sister nymphs reside. Rusalka agrees and drinks the magic potion that Ježibaba prepares with hilarious ceremony and help by three Disneyesque characters, part bird/ part man. At dawn, a Prince (Brandon Jovanovich) appears chasing a white doe but finds Rusalka but since she cannot talk or return to the water, she follows the Prince out of the forest.
The second of three Acts takes place in the castle where the gossipy Gamekeeper (Philip Horst) and the Kitchen Boy (Laura Krumm) despairingly discuss the coming marriage of the Prince with a oommon and silent stranger. Meanwhile, a Foreign Princess (Sarah Cambridge) catches the eye of the fickle Prince and Rusalka’s happiness is doomed. She returns to the lake that she cannot enter and the witch pronounces that the spell can only be broken if she kills the Prince. What to do? I don’t want to spoil the ending but will only say that this is not your “all ends happily” scenario. It is too nuanced for this, too complicated and too human a story.
The production is a fantasy come to stage with its dancing nymphs (choreography Andrew George), spooky swamp-like lake and splendid scenes in the castle grand hall and steamy kitchen (set design John Macfarlane) . The costumes (Moritz Junge) are right out of Disneyland. David Finn’s lighting is important in making the contrasts between the dark and ominous lake and forest with the brightly lit castle scenes. Leah Hausman’s revival of the stage direction and the fine orchestra’s conductor Eun Sun Kim are marvelous.
This is an opera for the whole family with one caveat that there are erotic dance scenes that might not be appropriate for the youth. “Rusalka” is real show-biz and the music and singing are divine.
“Rusalka” runs through June 28, 2919. Tickets from sfopera.com or (415) 864-3330.