Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ah Rusalka (1): Mĕsíčku, nezhasni!

Why I like Rusalka? I like romantic operas, and this is arguably the best romantic opera not composed by Wagner. Written in the best wagnerian tradition it brought in a new quality, Slavic sensibility. Its libretto is based on a legend about Rusalki -- a Slavic equivalent to mermaids, nymphs, Undine... Its lyricism reminds us of Lohengrin but the symmetry of its libretto is close to that of Tannhäuser.

The Prince and The Foreign Princess (Klaus Florian Vogt and Nadia Krasteva)

In a good production of Tannhäuser, for example, both female characters are sung by the same soprano. This is perfectly compatible with Venus and Elisabeth being two different sides of the same [and every!?] woman. Such a symmetry is even better in Rusalka once you detect the key moment in this opera.

If you're not familiar with the libretto of Rusalka please read its synopisis here.

Jezibaba (a witch) and The Foreign Princess are two sides of the same character too [both Ortrud-like, and Herheim showed us that Ortrud is not necessarily negative a character!], but here they are used as accessory to lead to the key romantic moment in the opera. In spite of the curse, it's thanks to Jezibaba that Rusalka reaches the realm of real world, while The Foreign Princess leads to the central moment in which the opera culminates. That moment occurs when she [The Foreign Princess] rejects The Prince.

This is why I believe an "ideal" production of Rusalka should revolve around The Prince.

His tragedy is not that he's rejected by The Foreign Princess. She simply feels that his love for her is not plain --it's only physical-- and eventually rejects him. Rather, his tragedy is that he realized that he's in love with his dream, Rusalka -- a woman who cannot give him warmth the way The Foreign Princess could. He realizes that he won't be able to unreservedly love a woman in his real life, while his fictional love will remain untouchable and cold -- the two world tragically coexist for him (or better, he in them.) From that moment on, his tragic end is inevitable in any romantic scenario you may imagine: A person stuck between two worlds is always tragic and the death then invariably comes as a blessing.

Where this libretto in terms of symmetry goes beyond Tannhäuser is that Rusalka is a slightly asymmetric image to The Prince in terms of that tragic unease in living the world she cannot fit in.

In his new astounding production of Rusalka --created at Bayrische Staatsoper in Munich-- Martin Kusej places Rusalka in the center of action, but in his show The Prince is not an accessory to accelerate her tragedy, but he is a protagonist too.

This is particularly well demonstrated in the last part when both of them [Rusalka and The Prince] are uncapable to cope with life in their respective worlds; they do not fit in these worlds and "logically" finish in a psychiatric hospital -- where they finally meet.

Martin Kusej gives an extra ingenious touch to this production when he masterfully superimposes The Fritzl case to your usual Rusalka: on one hand it "reactualizes" the work, and on the other it gives thecreepy Fritzl case a "romantic" side [it is again a story about a person's inability to live in between two worlds and fit in the world of "ordinary people".]  How can Elisabeth Fritzl live a normal life after 24 long years of detention and abuse?! That goes further than that...

I'll write another post --more about the actual show ;)-- later tonight.

Below is a beautiful excerpt from Rusalka [Běda! Běda!], sung by René Pape:

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