I am prepping for tomorrow’s Live in HD presentation of Dvorak’s Rusalka. I know the story; I know the Song to the Moon; I know the title water nymph is a signature role for both Renee Fleming and Kristine Opolais; and that’s about all I know. This week, I listened to the official Met Podcast (rather yawn-ful) and the new He Sang, She Sang podcast from WQXR—both available at their respective websites or wherever you prefer to download your podcasts. (I need to write more about He Sang, She Sang—a delightful new and somewhat irreverent effort that helps us understand opera without taking it too seriously and being boring—they also give us some nifty singer interviews (e.g., Luca Pisaroni, Diana Damrau, Kristine Opolais)).
Then, I looked to YouTube to find a full performance. The Schenk/Met performance with RF is there, along with the Czech film (probably worth a later look) and the Carsen Paris production. I started with the Met, but the combination of the awkward set (I kept waiting for someone (or creature) to stumble and fall into the pond) and RF’s rather odd acting choices put me off quite early. I love RF; but honestly, I never would rank her among the world’s top acting singers. So, I decided to head for Paris, also with RF but in a much more interesting production.
I had to laugh at one negative Amazon reviewer (of many nay-sayers) who preferred to see a “realistic” production. How does one do “realistic” witches, water nymphs, and goblins? I think it’s a bit pedantic and disingenuous* to insist on a “realistic” setting for an opera that is a fantasy based on a fairy tale. Contrary to what some might say, most (if not all) fairy tales are allegories. I love an applause-worthy set as much as anyone, but all the glitz and glam and fancy “realistic” and/or traditional sets can’t make up for a dull performance.