By Alan Schuster
When Czechoslovakian composer Antonin Dvorak composed his opera “Rusalka” in 1901, he was at his creative peak, matching the same high quality of his finest orchestral works.
The Czechs were quick to embrace it, benefited in part by the fairy tale – Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” ¬– upon which the opera is based. A ‘rusalka’ is a water sprite, usually inhabiting a lake or river.
The opera will be presented Live in HD from the Met at 12:55 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the USCB Center for the Arts.
The music in the score is extensive, ranging from folk-inspired to grandiose, as well as the impressionism that Dvorak expressed in several of the opera’s nature scenes.
No doubt, Dvorak also found inspiration in the works of some of his contemporaries, among them Wagner, Bizet and Tchiakovsky. One resounding example is the comparison between Tchiakovsky’s “Letter Scene” from Eugene Onegin that is captured in Rusalka’s “Plea to the Moon.” Both are rich in melody, expressing similar sentiments with emotional outbursts.
A meadow by the edge of a lake. Wood-sprites tease the Water Goblin, ruler of the lake. His daughter, Rusalka, tells him that she is in love with a human prince who comes to hunt around the lake, and she wants to become human to embrace him.
He discourages her, then steers her to a witch, Jezibaba, for assistance. Rusalka sings her Song to the Moon, asking it to tell the prince of her love. Jezibaba tells her that if she becomes human, she will lose the power of speech and, that if betrayed by him, both will be eternally damned. Rusalka agrees and drinks a potion. While hunting, the prince finds Rusalka, embraces her and leads her away, even though she is unable to speak.
The prince’s garden. A gamekeeper and his nephew learn that the prince is to marry a mute. They suspect witchcraft as the prince is already lavishing attentions on a foreign princess who is a wedding guest. The princess, jealous, curses the couple. The prince rejects Rusalka, and the princess, having won his affection, now scorns it.
A meadow by the lake. Rusalka asks Jezibaba for a solution to her woes and is told she can save herself if she kills the prince with a dagger she gives her. But Rusalka throws the dagger into the lake, turning her into a spirit of death living in the lake. Later, the prince comes to the lake, and calls for Rusalka. He asks her to kiss him, knowing it means death and damnation. They kiss, he dies and Rusalka returns to the depths of the lake.
If the Moon Song wasn’t so sublime, then Rusalka’s beautiful aria in the final act (“I am torn from life”) would be a stunning alternative. In it, she touchingly expresses her separation from her sisters and the prince. But in the finale, the couple comes together in what one opera historian considered to be “12 of the most glorious minutes in opera.” At the least, it should rank as opera’s greatest kiss of death.
Kristine Opolais, one of the newer and most exciting sopranos in the world today, sings the title role, ones which she has become accustomed to, having sung both “Madam Butterfly” and “Manon Lescaut” during the Met’s previous HD series. Joining her are mezzo Jamie Barton as Jezibaba; and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince.
Need a little convincing? Google: Kristin Opolais, Rusalka, Song to the Moon. Czech it out!
Tickets for all operas are now available. All seats are general admission. Tickets are $20 for adults; $18 for OLLI members; and $10 for students.
Order online at www.centerforthearts.com or by calling 843-521-4145. The box office opens at 11 a.m.