Rusalka - Semperoper Dresden, 17 May 2011
There’s no such thing as an innocent myth - it’s impossible to present Rusalka to a modern, thinking audience as your everyday interspecies romance. In Munich, Martin Kušej recently plunged his fork into the rampant misogyny beneath the opera’s sparkling surface with a dead deer-garnished tale of child abuse.
Stefan Herheim instead chooses to slither around it and examine the consequences of male desire from the guy's perspective. Setting the abused and silenced Rusalka to one side, his story is centred on the Waterman. Clever or cowardly? A few thigh boots, bouncy sex dolls, British bobbies and dancing kids in fish suits later it's easy to forget the question.
It’s midlife crisis time for the Waterman, stuck in a routine existence with his wife (the Foreign Princess). One wet night, he’s tempted by the silver-clad streetwalker Rusalka and her bar-hopping nymph friends. The second act becomes the Waterman’s recollection of his early years as the Prince – Rusalka here is the lost love of his youth. He regrets his choice (cue some clever costume-doubling from the Waterman and the Prince, and the Foreign Princess and Rusalka), and finally he kills his wife.
The staging is so jaw-dropping I was tempted to applaud the set. There’s just the one, a realistic street scene. Rusalka’s transformation is echoed in shop windows that flip magically from metro station to florist, from butchers to sex shop as the action moves from present to remembered past and back. The window in the corner shoots out to reveal a bar – called Lunatic in one act, Solaris the next. There’s a watery shine to the glassy floor and mirrored backdrop, and willow branches hang like waterweeds. The Song to the Moon is addressed to satellite dishes. Every detail seems perfectly integrated – there’s even a spectacular mermaid tail trompe l’oeil as Rusalka sits above an aquarium.
Already seen in Brussels and Graz, the production is now in its second sold-out run in Dresden, so you might think it would have lost some sparkle. But no, everything looked immaculately rehearsed. The cast aren’t big-name, but they all gave more than solid performances, led by the tireless Gustáv Belácek as the Waterman. Zoltán Nyári was the Prince, Lisa Livingston the Foreign Princess, Tichina Vaughn Ježibaba, and Gal James a voluptuous Rusalka.
The raucous energy of Tomáš Netopil's conducting complemented the riotous action on stage - good job the Semperoper orchestra's sound is refined enough to handle it.
Here some Semperoper photos (by Matthias Creutziger) - they feature an earlier cast:
There's a video and more photos here.