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Subject: Wall Street Journal Review of Met's new "Rusalka"
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Wed, 8 Feb 2017 09:31:01 -0500

text/plain (65 lines)

Wall Street Journal's review of the Met's new "Rusalka" (available only to subscribers, so I 
am providing it here in full):

by Heidi Waleson

Mary Zimmerman’s handsome new production of Dvorák’s “Rusalka,” which had its premiere 
at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, peeks beneath the opera’s fairy-tale Romanticism, 
Bruno Bettelheim-style. The structure and the storytelling are clear; missing is the pathos of 
the water nymph who gives up everything for love of a mortal Prince. In Jaroslav Kvapil’s 
libretto, Rusalka is constantly characterized as pale, cold and bloodless, like water, even as 
the heartbreaking music conveys the depth of her yearning. Ms. Zimmerman’s concept, as 
executed by soprano Kristine Opolais, takes that coldness a bit too literally.

This Rusalka is always “the other”—physically awkward even in the forest, her natural 
habitat, and hesitant in the human realm after she has been transformed by the witch 
Jezibaba. The source of her uncertainty and fear becomes clear in Act II: Her adolescent 
fantasy has thrown her into the world of grown-up sexuality, for which she is ill-prepared. “I 
am only half a woman,” she sings. Ms. Zimmerman and her designers (Daniel Ostling, sets, 
and T.J. Gerckens, lighting) create that dynamic with taste and subtlety, starting with Act I’s 
pretty wallpaper forest, huge twisted tree, and the giant moon that rises and flies away. 
This Romantic natural world is replaced in Act II by the red-drenched ballroom (the pile of 
antlered deer skulls in the rear is a nice touch). In Act III, when Rusalka returns, betrayed, 
to the forest, it is ripped and dead, the supports and riggings of the set pieces now visible, 
and all fantasy destroyed.

Also key is Austin McCormick’s trenchant choreography, which contrasts the childish 
playfulness of the wood sprites in Act I with the ferocious ballet of Act II, in which the 
Prince’s party guests enact the many levels of male-female relationships, terrifying Rusalka. 
Mara Blumenfeld’s dramatic costumes do the same: The sprites wear hoops and panniers 
decorated with flowers and twigs, like 18th-century girls playing dress-up in their mothers’ 
underwear, while the Foreign Princess, who seduces the Prince away from Rusalka, is full-on 
Marie Antoinette, with her enormously wide red and gold dress and spiky tiara.

Conductor Mark Elder and the Met orchestra got to the core of Rusalka’s tragedy in a 
luminous performance that captured the moonlit fantasy, the folkloric humor and the 
crushing weight of disappointment in this gorgeous score, but Ms. Opolais never touched 
the heart. Her singing was elegant and cool; you didn’t hear the yearning beneath her 
“Song to the Moon.” She was most persuasive in moments of despair and assertiveness, 
when she could unleash her power, but Rusalka’s vulnerability, which makes her more 
“human” than the mortals, was missing. In the poignant final scene, it was Brandon 
Jovanovich’s Prince who won your sympathy. After spending the entire evening as a sexual 
predator, his tenor aggressive and belligerent, with a manner to match, he softened and 
melted, begging for the deathly kiss of the wraith he has created.

Eric Owens was touching as the Water Gnome, Rusalka’s father; as Jezibaba, Jamie Barton, 
in a wonderful spiderweb dress, blended comedy and cruelty, her pungent mezzo taking on 
a fierce brightness. (She was attended by a trio of half-human, half-animal creatures—this 
should surely have served as a warning to Rusalka.) Katarina Dalayman brought a hard-
edged intensity to the Foreign Princess; Alan Opie and Daniela Mack communicated the 
superstitious rusticity of the Gamekeeper and the Kitchen Boy. Hyesang Park, Megan Marino 
and Cassandra Zoé Velasco were a charming trio of Wood Sprites.

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