Brighton Magazine

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Selected Brighton Magazine Article

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Rusalka At Glyndebourne: A Strong Smell Of Tragedy With A Sweet Taste Of Opera At Its Best

"I am an echo that no-one hears." Thus is the cry of Rusalka the water-spirit, who turned human and lost her voice all for the love of a man who has now fallen for another ('Rusalka', Glyndebourne Opera House).

Rusalka is an opera rooted in the heart of central and northern Europe, in its great forests and lakes.

It is a place of wood nymphs and witches, water spirits, castles and princes. In short it is the land of the fairy tale.

Rusalka is also a name given in those countries to water spirits who haunt the woods, spirits of drowned girls preying on men to feed upon them and cast them away.

Though in this opera it is the men and witches that try to feed upon naivety and innocence.

Most importantly it is a world populated not just by men but also by other races, races now driven to hide in the dark forests where humans fear to walk.

Yet the humans too are feared. Jezibaba the evil witch taunts Rusalka for refusing to kill the prince in order to save herself, saying that if she wishes to be human she must be able to kill without care.

So, humans are detested and feared by the other races, yet Rusalka, as in the tail of The Little Mermaid, is determined to become one in order to meet her love.

Through the power of witchcraft she loses her voice, loses her life in the water, and loses her family, gaining a thin, pale kind of humanity in order to meet up with her prince.

All goes well until he falls for another woman, some say the witch in disguise, and Rusalka is cast out.

This is no ‘Little Mermaid’ though. As the witch brews her potion for Rusalka to drink, disembowelled wood nymphs writhe in agony next to the great cooking pot that burns with the fires of hell.

Later, other wood nymphs seduce and then bite chunks out of a man's chest, the prince is close to forcing himself on the sexually innocent Rusalka. This is a fairy story with a strong smell of tragedy all about it.

Yet the real tragedy of this work lies not in the gruesome rituals or sexual mores, but in the tale of Rusalka herself, her choices, her trickery at the hands of the witch and the way that she is destroyed simply for being in love.

Despite the witch’s magic Rusalka is never truly human, like Frankenstein’s monster she is a copy of what it means to be human.

All her memories and experiences count against her, and she is left, with the prince dead, as shade who haunts the waters, refused by her own kind but unable to join the human race.

Rusalka is also like the asylum seeker in the U.S. I saw recently on T.V. who is effectively a citizen of no state at all.

He cannot leave the airport, but he cannot fly back anywhere either. He is stuck in space and time like a shade haunting the terminal until something changes; as she haunts the border of two worlds, two existences.

But for Rusalka there will be no change, she is doomed forever in the shadows; even hell it seems would be a release.

“To suffer is to live,” cries Rusalka at the witch, yet Rusalka is doomed to suffer without a life in any real sense of the word. Who cannot shed a tear at her terrible fate?

Glyndebourne’s production of Rusalka is simply stunning. It is thing of real beauty. It is opera at its best. The music by Dvorak is incredibly moving and beautiful in this great Czech opera.

The sets are magnificent. Simplicity, beauty, function and truth-to-the-story are the hallmarks of a great set, and this has them all.

In act one great tree-pillars surround the lake cross crossing the space up into the sky.

By the third and final act they are replaced by great ice shards that instead stab into the space around the water, as if into Rusalka’s poor heart.

The use of contemporary dancers as the water, conveying, pulling and writhing with fluidity and action is a real triumph.

Director Melly Still does not simply solve the problem of the ‘water’ but turns it to her advantage.

Of course the singing is of the highest quality, as one would expect of Glyndebourne.

If you have never been to Glyndebourne I cannot recommend it enough, it is modern building with comfortable seats, set in the heart of our beautiful South Downs. Even the views from the car parks are stunning!

Prices for ‘Rusalka’ range from £8.00 to £66.00 but no seat in this venue is a duffer, it is like the Dome Concert Hall in that respect.

Access is by car (free parking) or a special bus from Lewes (details on the website). Dress is suggested as smart casual, but there are seemingly no rules and regulations.

Compared with the costs of going to London this is very reasonable price for such a superb quality arts venue. In fact I prefer this venue for opera to any other I have been to in the UK.

Rusalka will be on at Glyndebourne, alongside the Marriage of Figaro and the Yellow Sofa, until the 21st October when it moves on to Woking, Norwich and many other venues across the country.

Go on, leave the Christmas shopping for a month and treat yourself to an opera, you will not regret it! For more information visit

by: Howard Young (Arts Editor)


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