Rusalka at the Royal Opera House – Intermezzo

February 29, 2012

 

Rusalka at the Royal Opera House

 

Rusalka – Royal Opera House, 27 February 2012 (ROH work premiere)

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Despite the Daily Telegraph’s best efforts to whip up controversy about its supposedly “anti-semitic” and “terrorist” content, the first night of ENO’s The Death of Klinghoffer apparently passed with barely a hint of protest. Audience slowly lulled into torpor would be my guess.

Yet over at the Royal Opera House, Dvorak’s Rusalka, an opera about – let’s face it – a bunch of fairies in a pond, excited a response more suited to a state visit by Robert Mugabe.

 

First off there was a political protest. “Vive le Québec libre !” yelled some twat at the back of the darkened auditorium as Québécois maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin raised his baton for the last act. Let me remind you we were 3,000 miles distant from anyone who might give a toss. Poor YN-S bent double with embarrassment before gathering himself together for the final push.

Then there was the curtain call. There wasn’t “a chorus of boos” at the end, as another Daily Telegraph entrant for the Bad Journalism awards puts it. (Are they all pitching for a job at The Sun on Sunday?) But when the production team took their bows, there were enough boos – all seeming to emanate from top price stalls seats, wouldn’t you know – to match the hearty applause. Perhaps our nation’s critics were the guilty parties. Most of the reviews I’ve seen so far froth with a degree of rage better targeted towards paedos and politicians than an evening’s entertainment.  And there enough factual errors in some of the critiques to suggest large swathes were ‘watched’ through closed eyes.

I know we don’t all like the same things, but what can have made people so angry? OK, so this show does not look like an Arthur Rackham drawing. But then I bet God doesn’t look like Father Christmas either. There are none of the classic button-pushers – nudity, lavatories, guns, Bob Wilson, and so on, so that can’t be it. And in any case, nobody who saw Monday night’s show can claim they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s production began life at the 2008 Salzburg Festival. This is documented in copious reviews, clips and photos, plenty of which can be found on the ROH website and in the programme.

What’s more, although it’s in modern dress, the production is at heart conventional and straightforward. Like many before them, Wieler and Morabito explore the duality of the human and spirit worlds in terms of parallels and contradictions, viewing the story of the mermaid who loses her tail as a parable of sexual initiation and the loss of innocence.

I wouldn’t say it’s a truly great production – Stefan Herheim tackles the same theme more effectively – but it’s a decent enough one. Wieler and Morabito respect music and text, channeling their interpretation to match both. Only rarely is there a disjunct. The most noticeable fault is a tendency to lay the symbolism on with a trowel (though it clearly still wasn’t enough for some to geddit). But the mere fact that this production invites a variety of interpretations is a pleasing rarity for Covent Garden. Is the obligation to think really that much of an imposition?

Both worlds are located in a single revolving set, a red velvet-draped room on one side, a pine-panelled wall on the other. (Like a few other design touches, this would have had greater cultural resonance in Salzburg than WC2).  A Little Mermaid statue sits on a table with nymph-shaped legs. Angela Gheorghiu’s prompt box becomes a portal to the underwater world.

Rusalka begins the story as a child, rolling around the floor in a sparkly fish tail and playing with her stuffed cat toy. Projections of marine life scud across the wall in a  SpongeBob SquarePants sort of a way.  A huge ghostly jellyfish is the strangely appropriate background for Rusalka’s Song to the Moon.

A shoe cabinet full of glamorous heels evokes Rusalka’s dream, but Jezibaba’s crippled leg suggests a darker reality. To turn Rusalka into a human, Jezibaba’s tomcat claws off her mermaid tail and rapes her as the orchestra pound out savage folk rhythms.  Any shock value is diluted by casting a dancer in a panto costume as the cat – the violent assault becomes disturbingly funny.

As Rusalka enters the Prince’s palace, the Kitchen Boy disembowels a white doe  – a forewarning of Rusalka’s fate.  The Prince’s entourage in their Jankers and dirndls (Salzburg again) are shown as a hypocritical bunch of bible bashers.

The final act finds the ruined Rusalka back home. But home has been transformed into a tawdry brothel. The Wood Nymphs are barely-clothed prostitutes and Jezibaba is the Madam, sprawled on a shrink-wrapped sofa with a (live) black cat commandeering audience attention for its five minutes of onstage fame.

Rusalka stabs herself and dies, but rises zombie-like to exact the Prince’s final doom. You won’t find this in any standard synopsis. It’s generally assumed (though, importantly, never said) that Rusalka is ‘undead’ throughout. But Wieler and Morabito’s version fits so precisely with both music and text, especially Rusalka’s chilling final words, that it seems more natural than the usual reading.

Musical values were exceptionally high thanks mostly to Nézet-Séguin’s command of score and orchestra.  His attention to detail paid off in a fabulously homogenous string sound and superb balance.  I have doubts about the cogency of his symphonic interpretations (like his meandering Bruckner 9 with the LPO a couple of weeks back) but he seems psychically attuned to the ebb and flow of dramatic narrative. Orchestra and singers occasionally drifted apart but there was never any let-up in the pulse and energy.

Camilla Nylund’s bleached silvery soprano was ideally suited to the title role, though she sometimes struggled against Nézet-Séguin’s no-holds-barred dynamics. Bryan Hymel gave the best performance I’ve ever heard from him, unvaried in colour perhaps, but not lacking in passion and commitment. Alan Held was a suitably dolorous Vodnik, and the trio of Anna Devin, Madeleine Pierard and Justina Gringyte impressed as the scantily-clad Wood Nymphs. Agnes Zwierko’s Jezibaba struck a fine balance between comedy and menace, and it was simply a luxury to have the eminent Wagnerian Petra Lang as the Foreign Princess.

*Warning* if you’re going – the performance is nearly 3 and half hours long, which is about 30 minutes longer than the ROH advance publicity suggested. Nézet-Séguin doesn’t dawdle, so my guess is he may have cancelled some initially-planned cuts.

UPDATE – check out Jessica Duchen’s in-depth interview with co-director Sergio Morabito.

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production photos (above) – Clive Barda for Royal Opera House

curtain call photos (below) – intermezzo.typepad.com

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Rusalka at the Royal Opera House – Intermezzo.

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March at La Monnaie

OPERA

Rusalka

Antonín Dvořák

Tickets

Once again, La Monnaie is presenting the magnificent production of Rusalka. Its visual richness, dramaturgic boldness and surprises fascinated audiences during its premiere in 2008. Stefan Herheim asserts his love of theatre and music in each of his stagings. The beautiful undine Rusalka is trapped by her passion for the Prince under the gaze of the spirit of the lake. Her metamorphosis becomes an occasion to explore the complexities of man’s desire for the many faces of each woman. Conductor Ádám Fischer emphasises Dvořák’s tremendous palette of orchestral colours, revealing the dramatic power as well as the emotional nuances of the work, in perfect harmony with the staging.

Are you under age 30? Benefit from a 30% reduction!

6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 15 & 16 March 2012 – La Monnaie

ON THE THEME OF RUSALKA

Meet the Artist

Stefan Herheim

Tickets

Stefan Herheim is one of the most innovative opera stage directors of our time. During this discussion, led by Peter de Caluwe, he will speak of his artistic career, his aesthetic universe and his approach to Rusalka.

Discussion in English.

3 March 2012 at 3.30pm – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer

Museum Night Fever

LA MONNAIE OPENS ITS DOORS!

Museum Night Fever is back on Saturday 3 March, featuring museums as you’ve never seen them before! No fewer than 24 Brussels museums will be staying open until the early hours for an offbeat programme of events. Once again, La Monnaie will participate in Museum Night Fever. Come and discover the universe of Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka, thanks to a surprising multidisciplinary itinerary on the theme of metamorphosis. The Alechinsky hall will become a lounge bar with DJ sets for the occasion.

3 March 2012 from 7pm till 1am – La Monnaie Workshops

Happy Sunday!

On the theme of Rusalka

This Happy Sunday! gives your children (aged 6-12) the chance to discover the story of the water sprite Rusalka. During a fascinating and poetic workshop, they will learn about Antonín Dvořák’s opera and characters.

11 March 2012 at 1.30pm – La Monnaie Workshops

A Night at the Opera

with School is Cool

SOLD OUT

Dive into the phantasmagorical universe of Rusalka – full of men and nymphs as well as other strange creatures – in the company of the energetic group from Antwerp, School is Cool! An exciting evening for young people under age 30, an encounter in two parts and a performance for only €20.

15 March 2012 at 6pm – La Monnaie

BOOKING OPEN

THANKS TO MY EYES

OSCAR BIANCHI

BOOKING OPENS ON 25 FEBRUARY

Tickets for Thanks to my Eyes, conducted by Franck Ollu and staged by Joël Pommerat.

Last tickets!

3, 5, 6, 10 & 11 April 2012 – Théâtre National

Orlando

George Frideric Handel

OPERA IN CONCERT

Theodora

George Frideric Handel

The story evokes the cruelty of the Roman oppressor at the beginning of Christianity: the princess Theodora, performed by soprano Sandrine Piau, and the Roman soldier Didymus refuse to renounce their Christian faith and are thus sentenced to death by the Roman Emperor Valens. This theme inspired Handel to write one of his most beautiful scores: a work to rediscover, conducted by Hervé Niquet.

12 March 2012 at 8pm – Bozar

RECITAL

Sandrine Piau & Les Paladins

Un horizon serein

The key figure in this programme is Jean-Philippe Rameau, who was the greatest French opera composer in the first half of the 18th century, and one of the most productive. With no historical bias, Sandrine Piau and Les Paladins have come up with a magnificent programme covering a century of French opera, presenting moving and even funny scenes.

17 March 2012 at 8pm – Bozar

DANCE

Apocrifu

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Last Tickets

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui‘s splendid Apocrifu is back. The Belgian artist made an impact with this choreography for three dancers, a puppet and the Corsican vocal ensemble A Filetta. Since then, Apocrifu has been presented with huge international success. As a replacement for Three Duets, this is a performance to be seen again.

21 and 22 March 2012 at 8pm – La Monnaie

CONCERT

Jeux et contes cruels

Claude Debussy & Tristan Murail

Tickets

Of the four works for orchestra which he had planned to write for ballet, Claude Debussy finished only one: Jeux, a ballet which playfully describes erotic attraction between young people. An echo of the typically French refinement of Debussy’s universe of sound is heard a century later in the spectral music of Tristan Murail. In his Contes cruels for two electric guitars and small orchestra, he evokes with a touch of humour the 19th century literary world of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. This is a chance to discover the surprising work of conductor Susanna Mälkki.

24 March 2012 at 8pm – Bozar

CONCERTINI

La Monnaie presents its Concertini lunchtime concerts every Friday at 12.30pm.

 

For the revival of Rusalka, works by Antonín Dvořák will be performed by several La Monnaie chamber music ensembles and by the piano quartet Archino.

 

César Franck

Piano Trios

Tatiana Samouil (vl), Justus Grimm (vc), David Lively (pf)

2 March 2012 – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer


Antonín Dvořák

Serenade in D minor for Wind, Cello and Double Bass, op.44 (1878)

Bagatelles, op.47 (1878)

La Monnaie Wind Ensemble

Zygmunt Kowalski (vl), Femke Sonnen (vl), Corinna Lardin (vc), e.o.

9 March 2012 – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer

Antonín Dvořák

String Quartet N°10 in E flat major (‘Slavonic’), op.51 (1878-1879)

Cypresses, B.152 (1887) (selection)

La Monnaie Malibran String Quartet

16 March 2012 – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer

Antonín Dvořák

Piano Quintet in A major, op.81 (1887)

La Monnaie Piano Quintet

23 March 2012 – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer

Antonín Dvořák

Piano Quartet in E flat major, op.87 (1889)

Archino

30 March 2012 – La Monnaie, Grand Foyer

March at La Monnaie.

Bayreuth 2013: Richard-Wagner-Jubiläum Bayreuth 2013 – Hier steckt Wagner drin!

Bayreuth rüstet sich für Wagner-Jahr 2013

Festspielhaus Bayreuth © picture-alliance/dpa

2013 ist Wagner-Jahr – dann steht der 200. Geburtstag und der 130. Todestag des Komponisten Richard Wagner an. Bayreuth als Stadt der Wagner-Festspiele hat am Mittwoch, 15. Februar, eine Internetseite www.wagnerstadt.de freigeschaltet, die über die Jubiläumsfeierlichkeiten im kommenden Jahr informiert. Mit Konzerten, Vorträgen, Buchvorstellungen, Leseabenden und einem Kongress wird das Wagner-Jubiläum in Bayreuth gefeiert. Die Genregrenzen dürften beim geplanten Projekt “Wagner meets Rock und Pop” fallen. 1872 waren Wagner und seine Familie nach Bayreuth gezogen. Sein Sitz, das Haus Wahnfried, ist heute ein Museum. Kleiner Wermutstropfen: Die dort derzeit laufenden Sanierungsarbeiten können nicht bis 2013 abgeschlossen werden, wie die Stadt vor einigen Wochen einräumen musste.

 

Bayreuth 2013: Richard-Wagner-Jubiläum Bayreuth 2013 – Hier steckt Wagner drin!.

Kaufmanns erster Liederabend im Musikverein – Kultur – KURIER.at

Kritik: Mit seiner Stimme lässt sich nicht nur der Godene Saal restlos ausfüllen, auch Steine könnten so zum Erweichen gebracht werden.

Jonas Kaufmann fühlt sich bei opernhaften Liedern sehr wohl .

Seine Stimme hat neben einem beeindruckenden Umfang vor allem große Macht. Nicht nur der Goldene Saal lässt sich damit restlos ausfüllen, auch Steine könnten so zum Erweichen gebracht werden. Jonas Kaufmann gab am Montag seinen ersten Liederabend im Musikverein.

Bei den vielen Passagen, die die Kopfstimme verlangten, hörte man selbst ihm die Anstrengung an. Einzigartig ist die Meisterschaft des Tenors, wo der breite Opernpinsel zum Einsatz kommt. So waren denn auch die Lieder von Richard Strauss mit ihrer fordernden Stimmgewalt das überzeugendste Viertel des Programms, das mit Franz Liszt begonnen hatte. In den Liedern von Henri Duparc konnte sich die Stimme des stets wortdeutlichen Jonas Kaufmann auffallend schön entfalten.

Die besondere Stimmung, die Jonas Kaufmann und Pianist Helmut Deutsch erzeugten, kam vor allem in Gustav Mahlers „Rückert-Liedern“ zum Ausdruck. Höhepunkt des Abends: „Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen“

Kaufmanns erster Liederabend im Musikverein – Kultur – KURIER.at.