Opera Scotland

Rusalka

Music
Antonín Dvořák (born Nelahozeves, 8 September 1841; died Prague, 1 May 1904)

Text
Jaroslav Kvapil.

Sources
Tale Undine (1811) by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1777-1843), and The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75).

Premières
First performance: Prague (National Theatre), 31 March 1901.
First UK performance: London (Peter Jones Theatre), 9 May 1950.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 19 August 1964.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
Dvorák’s most popular opera outside his own country has always been Rusalka, even in the years when it was only known through the famous Song to the Moon.

The first major production in Britain was by Sadler’s Wells in 1959, with Joan Hammond and Charles Craig, but this never appeared in Scotland. The Prague National Theatre brought Rusalka on their Edinburgh visit of 1964. There was then a long gap, but since David Pountney’s famous ENO production of 1984 the opera appears to be gaining somewhat in popularity, and has also received a notably successful staging at Glyndebourne and a rather more controversial one at Covent Garden.

Main Characters
Rusalka, a water sprite (soprano)
The Prince (tenor)
Vodník, the water goblin (bass)
Ježibaba, a witch (mezzo-soprano)
Foreign Princess (soprano)
Gamekeeper (baritone)

Plot Summary
Rusalka falls in love with a prince. She is warned by the water goblin that this is a bad idea. However Ježibaba tells her that she can use her magic powers to change Rusalka into human form, but that there are two conditions, the breaking of either of which will mean damnation. These are that Rusalka must remain silent, and that the prince must remain faithful. Rusalka accepts.

When the prince arrives in a hunting party he falls for her and they leave for his court. In her new environment wedding preparations are made, but the suspicious populace does not accept Rusalka, and she is particularly the victim of her rival, a foreign princess who is hoping to marry the prince. The goblin arrives to comfort Rusalka, but there is nothing they can do. As rumours spread about Rusalka’s background, the prince at last repudiates her. Rusalka returns home, heart-broken, and the effect of the prince’s disloyalty is that she is cursed to wander the world.

When the repentant prince seeks her out at the lakeside to beg her forgiveness she is able to explain the situation, but tells him that if she were to kiss him he would die. He insists that she do this and immediately dies in her arms. The curse is broken, so they are united.

The Cast

First Dryad
 
Foreign Princess
 
Gamekeeper
 
Huntsman
 
Ježibaba
 a witch
Kitchen Boy
 
Prince
 
Rusalka
 a naiad, daughter of the water goblin
Second Dryad
 
Third Dryad
 
Vodník
 a water goblin, Rusalka's father

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