Sunday, February 26, 2017

That's Opera, not Oprah!

I have friends who travel all over the world to see operas, and others who catch every Met Opera in NYC or streamed at their local cinema. The word opera brings out a lot of oohs and aahs from fans and a lot of moans and groans from non-fans.

Me, until yesterday, I've been neutral, leaning towards the moan and groan side. I'd seen only three operas. These aren't the productions I've gone to, but they convey what I feel about

The Painfully Tragic death song from La Traviata:

The Light-speed and Joyous "Habanera" from Carmen:

The whatever song from the incomprehensible 
& excruciatingly long LuLu:

Recently I noticed The Met's production of Rusalka (1900) was going to be streamed at a theater in my city. Something about the title of the opera by Czech composer Antonin Dvořák (1841 to 1904) was familiar. I read the synopsis and decided to buy a ticket. Suddenly, a flash of memory: I own a novel entitled Rusalka (1989) by C. J. Cherryh, about a girl who was drowned and becomes a ghost. 

The word Rusalka is derived from Slavic mythology and means the soul of an unbaptized child that lives in a lake, or a virgin. It also means river witch, or a spirit that haunts a river or lake, or a life-draining fairy that haunts the waters and sucks the life from the living. Myths tend to offer a lot of options. 

The Czech opera by Dvořák is a beautiful fantasy based on Slavic myths. Here is The Met's info on the production's stars: Kristine Opolais the role that helped launch her international career, the mythical Rusalka, who sings the haunting “Song to the Moon.” Director Mary Zimmerman brings her wondrous theatrical imagination to Dvořák’s fairytale of love and longing, rejection and redemption. Brandon Jovanovich, Jamie Barton, Katarina Dalayman, and Eric Owens complete the all-star cast, and Mark Elder conducts.

This lovely and charming fantasy opera is a story familiar to everyone who has encountered the 1989 Disney animated movie The Little Mermaid. Of course, Rusalka, the opera, pre-dates the Disney studio, and is adult-based. Here's my rather plebeian synopsis:

Much to the dismay of the Water Sprite, his water nymph daughter Rusalka has fallen in love with a mortal named Prince. Rusalka visits Ježibaba, the all-powerful witch, who agrees to make her human, with a body and soul, but there are conditions, one of which is that she can no longer speak. The Prince is entranced by Rusalka and takes her to his castle to marry her. But Rusalka has a supernatural past he doesn't know about, and she cannot speak. She looks like an outsider and does not fit into life at court, where she is made fun of and viewed with suspicion. The Prince can't understand why Rusalka doesn't meet his passionate advances with her passion. Suddenly a Foreign Princess appears, the opposite of Rusalka, pointing out the coldness of the Prince's intended, and the fickle Prince is charmed away before the wedding. If Rusalka loses the mortal's love, another condition of the transformation comes into play. Broken-hearted, Rusalka returns home and is now relegated to spending eternity alone in the deep, dark waters with only the dead. Ježibaba tells her she can avoid this fate IF she kills the Prince, but Rusalka refuses. The Prince has second thoughts and finds her, but it's too late. Rusalka assures him her kiss would kill him but he insists he wants it anyway, he can't live without her. They kiss, he dies, and Rusalka, who thinks only mortals have a soul, prays for the Prince's redemption for the wrong he has done to her.

Here's Kristine Opolais as Rusalka singing "Song to the Moon" in the Metropolitan Opera Company's production:

Rusalka screens again on April 8, 10 and 12, 2017. If you're intrigued and want to check out this worthy opera, click below, then click Events, then click Met Opera

No comments:

Post a Comment