The remarkable, complex staging added much to the drama; set designer John MacFarlane and choreographer Andrew George are to be commended. The scene in which Rusalka’s father, ably sung by Štefan Kocán, lamented the loss of his daughter to the mortal world, was made poignant by the ball acted out behind the glass, especially when the fickle prince pushed Rusalka away in contempt. Torn pieces of paper representing flower petals were blown into the air to marvelous effect.
Review by Paul Merkley F.RS.C.
Toronto ON October 13th 2019
(sitting centre) Lauren Eberwein as the Turnspit and Matthew Cairns as the Gamekeeper in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Rusalka, 2019
Photo: Michael Cooper
Dvořák’s Fairy-Tale Tragedy: COC Mounts Rusalka with appropriate Gloom and Doom
The voices were strong, the orchestra expressive, and the staging complex and effective in yesterday evening’s excellent production of Rusalka. The sets and props travelled from the Chicago Lyric Opera to the Four Seasons Centre for this production, another successful operatic collaboration between Toronto and Chicago. Dvořák’s second-last opera, first performed in Prague in 1901, is a musical masterpiece with the libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (no happy ending this time) and more directly influenced by Friedrich de la Motte Fouquée’s Undine of 1811 (the title character Rusalka is a water sprite, or a “wave”).
Dvořák composed the opera fluently from April to November 1900, incorporating some material that he had sketched in America in the early 1890's. The music has Wagnerian traits, much of it structured around connected motifs, and the characters and situations sometimes seem transposed from Parsifal. Rusalka herself is always introduced on stage by beautiful writing for harp. Some passages in the violas, the composer’s own instrument, are haunting.
Sondra Radvonovsky excelled as the title character, strong and resonant in the emphatic, upper-register passages, heart-breakingly plaintive in quiet scenes of pathos. Her rendition of the first-act “Song to the Moon” was lovely.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka (centre) in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Rusalka, 2019; Photo credit: Michael Cooper
The other soloists also gave strong performances. Elena Manistina was musically and dramatically convincing as the witch Jezibaba. Keri Alkama sang effectively the role of the foreign princess, the jealous villainess who ruined a perfect love match and brought about death and destruction. Pavel Cernoch played the faithless, doomed prince very well. Matthew Cairns and Lauren Eberwein carried off the comic relief roles of the gamekeeper and the ill-fated kitchen boy. The chorus performed well and added drama to the scenes in which they echoed or answered from offstage.
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(l-r) Elena Manistina as Ježibaba and Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka in the
Canadian Opera Company’s production of Rusalka, 2019
Photo credit: Michael Cooper
Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Rusalka, 2019; Photo credit: Michael Cooper
The sets were evocative. The antlers in the ballroom, and the blood on costumes and in the kitchen and hall all created the impression of the cruel human world that Rusalka had entered to her peril and downfall.
Rusalka’s sisters, the courtiers, and the nymphs were all elaborately and effectively choreographed. Radvonovsky sang beautifully in full voice while negotiating the complicated set; the same was true of the other soloists. The set, a barren forest, was moved to reveal the moon, or daylight in turns. Smoke seemed to suggest movement between the mortal and underwater worlds.
This is a moving opera; the production is beautiful and evocative and will be repeated on October 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 26 2019.