PostHeaderIcon “Rusalka”: A magical adult fairy tale and Lyric Opera triumph

I spent four hours last week immersed in a dark forest, frolicking with water nymphs and I didn’t want to return to this mortal plane once it ended. That’s how captivating a musical experience it was. I’m speaking of my night at the opera, Lyric Opera’s new production of “Rusalka” by noted Czech composer, Antonin Dvorak, more famous for his symphonies, including the iconic 9th, “The New World”.

My expectations were not high entering Lyric. I had seen a quite ordinary production of the same opera on the Metropolitan Opera’s MetLive HD series. It featured Renee Fleming who has championed this work. Apart from her creamy singing and a strong performance by Piotr Beczala (also excellent in last season’s Las Vegas-themed “Rigoletto”) as The Prince, I never felt more than mildly engaged by the story.

Rusalka dramatic set

"Rusalka" longs to be human

Yet, two weeks later, the same work thrilled me. Apart from the principal singers, full credit must go to the production team of director David McVicar and set designer John Macfarlane. McVicar kept the opera’s several elements–romance, tragedy, the supernatural and intense earthly emotion–in perfect balance while staging a performance of fiery intensity. Macfarlane’s forest setting, with its shifting trees, and the second act’s magnificent Ballroom scene easily surpassed the Met’s less striking counterparts.

The tale strains belief–a water nymph who wants to take on human form so she can experience mortal love for a prince she has seen swimming at the lake–but my disbelief dissolved in the stunning blend of singing, set and score. One is quickly caught up in the fairy tale’s magic spell. This ranks as among the finest Lyric productions of the new century.

Anna Maria Martinez

Anna Maria Martinez

Ana Maria Martinez as Rusalka and Brandon Jovanovich as The Prince delivered musical and emotional performances of a high standard that had the Lyric audience on its feet at the end. Martinez’s portrayal was more dramatic than Fleming’s. She ran back and forth across stage constantly and her body visibly shivered as she conveyed Rusalka’s anxiety at being on dry land and cool to the Prince’s passion. Martinez was also more effective in the second act conveying her heartbreak at losing the Prince while remaining mute. She is a true dramatic soprano.

Sir Andrew Davis was a true, equal partner. This is a score he must clearly love, evidenced by the rich, lyrical sound he drew from his orchestra. His shapely reading had this listener wondering why this score has been so unjustly overlooked by opera houses for most of the last century since its premiere in 1901.

Don’t miss one of the  final four performances before it closes March 16th. You may never have heard of this opera but you’ll never forget it.  Tickets for remaining performances are at or call 312/827-5600.

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