THEATRE ROYAL, GLASGOW
Reviewed by Mark Brown
There are, no doubt, modern and psychological readings to be made of Antonín Dvořák’s 1901 opera Rusalka. However, director/designer Antony McDonald’s 2008 staging for Grange Park Opera, revived here by Scottish Opera under the baton of its new music director Stuart Stratford, is not one of them.
This revival marks the premiere of Rusalka for Scottish Opera. It is, in many ways, a traditional production.
McDonald leaves the metaphorical possibilities to the audience as he takes us into a mythical world that combines Czech folklore with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale of The Little Mermaid. Rusalka, a mermaid in a lake in the midst of an enchanted forest, falls in love with the Prince.
As her father, the merman Vodník, bewails the loss of his daughter to capricious humanity, Rusalka asks the witch Ježibaba to transform her into a woman. The sorceress agrees, on two dreadful conditions: in taking human form, Rusalka will become mute; and, should the Prince should stray from her, his infidelity will plunge Rusalka into the condition of a tormented spirit, neither dead nor alive.
If McDonald has a Freudian or feminist take on this tale of enforced female silence he is not sharing it with us. The visual world of his production, complete with dark lake, bleak, leafless trees and menacing witch’s cottage is drawn from the realm of fairy tales.
To say the piece is traditional is not to say that it is staid, however. This is a staging that bristles with, often macabre, humour.
Leah-Marian Jones’s Ježibaba, for example, is comically vain, sarcastic and brutal when she is hacking off poor Rusalka’s tail fins. Natalya Romaniw’s foreign princess, who is vengefully jealous of Rusalka’s impending marriage to the Prince, is a wonderfully larger-than-life femme fatale.
There are tremendous performances across the piece, not least from Willard White (a powerfully anguished Vodník) and Peter Wedd (a hapless and, ultimately, tragic, Prince).
However, the greatest challenge falls upon Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role. The French soprano plays an elusive character who is, by turns, a mythical creature, a mute human and a desolate spirit.
She plays all three with a compelling subtlety and deftness that is equal to the beauty of both her voice and Dvořák’s delightful, Slavonic music.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, April 7 and 9; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, April 14 and 16. Details: scottishopera.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 6, 2016
© Mark Brown