"In returning Rusalka to the “Little Mermaid” origins of Hans Christian Andersen [Melly Still, the director] is able to pick up on one or two feminist home truths: this Rusalka desires to be a whole woman but her mermaid’s tail effectively “binds” her, keeps her in her place, and when she does at last “find her feet” she is robbed of her freedom of speech. Such is the terrible price of womanhood."
"Then, in a neat twist, her enabler – the witch Jezibaba.... is some kind of malevolent big-skirted babushka with a head-scarf and a hunting knife. And there’s no escaping her – she’s everywhere, replicated around the stage by shadowy clones mirroring her every gesture. It’s like Still is saying that Rusalka is the victim of tradition. How ironical, too, that the bloody sacrificial ritual......should be enacted to music of Dvorak at his most innocuously folksy."
Andrew Clark in the Financial Times said ".... the supernatural scenes look horribly old-fashioned and there’s not an original idea all evening. It’s another case of a theatre director leaving their interpretative intelligence at the stage door the minute they set foot in an opera house." and see Hugh Canning HERE for a completely different take !
Interesting to make a connection between Rusalka and the Cunning Little Vixen.
Regular readers of this blog will know how highly I rate Jirì Belohlávek in this repertoire. He understands Dvorák, Janáček and other composers of the region as serious music, not as quaint folklore. Oddly enough his Mahler has always disappointed me. He also demonstrates how much the music springs from the language, which is why it loses so much of its pungency in translation.
The DVD of this opera, made in Czechoslovakia in 1975, conducted by Chalabala, is a film with the opera as soundtrack as opposed to "filmed opera". So they can do visual effects not possible on stage, such as Rusalka's spirit flitting about in the air like an Irrlicht. It's a bit dated looking but musically it's good. So it is time perhaps for a serious new production of Rusalka, perhaps at ROH and conducted by Belohlávek, definitely the conductor of choice in this repertoire. It's hardly a rare piece, as the music is so well known, but a good production will do it justice.
Please see my review of the Glyndebourne Purcell The Fairy Queen HERE