The chance to see Rusalka with Renée Fleming at a theater nearby was irresistible, especially since I was not able to attend a live performance in New York or Chicago. Being lucky enough to be in Palo Alto during the winter, I joined a theater filled with avid fans at the Cinearts Palo Alto Square. (Website ) Rusalka, Antonín Dvořák’s ninth opera, was first performed in Prague on 31 March 1901. During the four hours of the performance, I was transported to another world, fantastical and beautiful.
Wikipedia says, “Metropolitan Opera Live in HD (also known as The Met: Live in HD) is a series of live opera performances transmitted in high-definition video via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to select venues, primarily movie theaters, in the United States and other parts of the world. The first transmission was of a condensed English-language version of Mozart's The Magic Flute on December 30, 2006.”
The Met HD has ignited opera excitement worldwide and there are real advantages to this kind of opera experience. Website What these performances do extremely well is to bring the opera to an “up close and personal” level with interviews of the major performers and the conductor by the host, which in this case, was Susan Graham. The audience was even treated to a clip of Renée Fleming performing her role as the first opera singer singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, just the week before, as Susan Graham explained.
Another aspect that was well done is showing how the scenery was changed and the huge crew required to change the elaborate set in 20 minutes. In addition the audience shots bring the movie audience into the performance. The disadvantage of not seeing a live production is that while the production was visually exquisite the sound quality was not consistent.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this specific performance was that Renée Fleming who was singing her first Live in HD performance of one of her signature roles, the title character in Dvořák's sumptuously melodic Rusalka. Fleming won the Met's National Council Auditions 25 years ago singing the forlorn mermaid's famous aria "Song to the Moon", little known at the time, and has sung the role of Rusalka more than any other artist in Met history. Audiences who came to hear this were not disappointed. It was beautiful not only to listen to but the setting and costuming were beautiful and mesmerizing.
English Lyrics to this famous poem:
Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far,
You travel around the wide world,
and see into people's homes.
Moon, stand still a while
and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily
let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away,
and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!
If his human soul is in fact dreaming of me,
may the memory awaken him!
Moonlight, don't disappear, disappear!
The story of the opera, which is about a witch that grants a water nymph mortality so she can marry the prince she adores on two conditions. Rusalka agrees that she will give up her ability to speak, which would certainly have been a deal breaker for me, and if the prince proves to be unfaithful, their souls would be damned for eternity. In the darkly sensual fairytale, they are damned. The story is drawn from several folktale sources including Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Star conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads a cast that also includes Piotr Beczala as the handsome Prince Rusalka yearns to love; Dolora Zajick as the cackling swamp witch Ježibaba; Emily Magee as the Foreign Princess, Rusalka's rival; and John Relyea as Rusalka's father, the Water Sprite.
The music incorporates a folklore quality. Sung in Czech, the words were especially beautiful with the music. The Czech libretto was written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil (1868–1950) based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová. Rusalka is one of the most successful Czech operas, and represents a cornerstone of the repertoire of Czech opera houses. A Rusalka is a water sprite from Slavic mythology, usually inhabiting a lake or river.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor, was charming when interviewed by Susan Graham and he was clearly thrilled to be conducting the orchestra for this opera. Renée Fleming’s Rusalka and Piotr Beczala, the prince for whom she was willing to give up her ability to speak were perfect together. Dolora Zajick, witch Ježibaba and John Relyea as Rusalka's father were memorable. You have the special opportinity to see the wonderful production at the encore performance on Wednesday, February 12th at 6:30.
Cinearts Palo Alto Square
3000 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Photos: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera