Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ah Rusalka (2): Tutti Bravi!

Rusalka, BSO Munich, October 31 2010

Nadia Krasteva, Kristien Opolais, and Klaus Florian Vogt

Production ..... Martin Kušej
Conductor ..... Tomáš Hanus

The Princ ..... Klaus Florian Vogt
The Foreign Princess ..... Nadia Krasteva
Rusalka ..... Krístīne Opolaís
Vodnik ..... Günther Groissböck
Ježibaba ..... Janina Baechle
Gamekeeper ..... Ulrich Reß
Kitchen Boy ..... Tara Erraught
1st Wood Sprite ..... Evgeniya Sotnikova
2nd Wood Sprite ..... Angela Brower
3rd Wood Sprite ..... Okka von der Damerau
Hunter ..... John Chest

The Bavarian State Orchestra
The Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera

Here are the links to the files of the radio broadcast of one of the shows at BSO: part-1 and part-2.
I'll remove them in a week from now.

I already mentioned the superposition of the libretto-story of Rusalka with the Fritzl case that Martin Kusej managed to ingeniously make work in his production of Dvorak's Rusalka. It is one of those shows in which everything seems to click right.

Fellow bloggers Intermezzo and Likely Impossibilities saw the show and discussed what they've seen. Many other reviews are available on Internet.

With a risk to repeat what they already said, I'll only briefly summarize how that superposition works.
Rusalka and the nymphs (Elisabeth Fritzl and her kids) are hidden in the basement, psychologically and physically abused by her father Vodnik (Waterman) -- a boorish creature in tracksuit and bathrobe. After years of abuse, Rusalka wants to go out and find a man of her dreams. Jezibaba (a witch and the Vodnik's complicit wife) helps Rusalka escape but the price to pay is not only that she won't be able to talk to her prince but also that she will step into this new world on high heels. This is a typical Kusej's mockery (Why do women wear excessively high heels?!)
In this new world --in spite of the love from/to The Prince-- she is not accepted but exposed to judgmental looks and comments of the people in that world of her Prince.  She remains cold and mute to her Prince who feels sexually attracted to The Foreign Princess and goes after her despite the preparation to marry Rusalka. That, together with the unease of not belonging to the world she finds herself in, lead to that beautiful moment in which Kusej push the symmetry I discussed yesterday: The Prince gets rejected by the Princess, and Rusalka --after having seen a vision of her father-- steps into the aquarium standing in the corner of the room. That in fact exacerbates the drama of The Prince's rejection, because at the same time Rusalka crossed the line of no return: she feels better in a confined space (as little as that aquarium) than being socially and emotionally humiliated by the people around her and by her Prince. 
The story will end with Rusalka begging Jezibaba to come back to the house she's been abused in. Jezibaba accepts to help her if she promises to kill The Prince. "Police" then breaks into the Vodnik's house, discovers the captives in his basement (daughter and his grand children, i.e. Rusalka and the nymphs), arrest/kill Vodnik.
In the last scene we see Rusalka and the nymphs ('her children') in psychiatric hospital. After years of captivity and socially unacceptable life they are unable to live "normally" (define normalcy to them!). Rusalka is emotionally distroyed and it's The Prince who visits her emptiness. He too ended up in the same  hospital -- looking for the woman of his dreams. After a brief moment of passion in which he finally kissed her, Rusalka stabs him to death. That moment always works with me as you can interpret it in many ways. She kills him to obbey Jezibaba [after years of captivity and obbedience, she simply executes a command]? She kills him to wipe him out from her head? She kills him to rescue him [kick him out of her world]?...

There are many-many details intertwined with the main story (or better, this double-story). When I said Kusej saw something romantic in the Fritzl case, I thought about the same phenomenon Peter Mullan shows in his film, The Magdalene Sisters: there is one scene in that film, in which one of the tortured girls is alone and stares at the doors wide open, hesitates to esape, and seconds later returns to the Asylum. Rusalka (Elisabeth Fritzl) wants to return to that house in which she's been humiliated beyond words -- she feels safe there, no matter how crazy this may look to us. Why did Elisabeth Fritzl wait for 24 years of to report her case to the Police? Is it the same fear of being hurt by the judgmental world that was her alternative? The anxiety to get out from the shadow?

Martin Zehetgruber designed the sets for Kusej's show that reminds us of the last act of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In the apartment of Jezibaba's and Vodnik's there is a huge wall-paper with a lake and woods on it. This comes handily to fit the libretto when The Prince comes from the woods to find his Rusalka. Later on, when the action goes to the Prince's house, the wall paper pattern will change and before the "ball scene" the front wall will fall this opening the space behind where many replicas of Rusalka in her wedding dress will be dancing, each with a killed deer in her arms.
That's another allegory that Kusej slips into the show (which I won't discuss here, because the review becomes too long).

The show would not be as good if anyone else was Rusalka. Kristine Opolais is known to be a splendid actress, which is why Tcherniakov loved her roles in his production of The Gambler and his recent (memorable!) Don Giovanni. Here she just confirms that she is one of the best actresses in business, giving her heart and soul on the stage. She never over-acts and you could feel the Rusalka's pain and her feeling lost through her gestures. By this splendid performance and she hits my fave list. She may not be your reference Rusalka for CD, but on DVD this will be fantastic.

Klaus Florian Vogt is a divinely singing tenor who is our best Lohengrin ever, fantastic Erik, Walter or Parsifal, but the roles in the productions for which more acting skills are required expose his lack in spontaneity when acting. For the most part of this show his singing was sensational as ever, but in the most dramatic moments he clearly was less good than either of his partners, The foreign Princess or Rusalka.

Nadia Krasteva is a fantastic singer and here she confirms it. Her velvety mezzo and her sexy looks were a big asset in this production. Janina Baechle's warm mezzo matched well Krasteva's -- they indeed seemed as two sides of the same character.

Günther Groissböck is a fantastic singer and actor who we saw in the first two operas of The Paris Ring this year. His voice is not huge but the timbre is perfectly dark for the role, and his musicality is always equally astonishing. You don't see many basses today with that quality.

I liked the way Tomas Hanus [the only Czech on the team] conducted this very good orchestra. He obviously rehearsed with them a lot and was able to pull several elegant orchestral intermezzos, while keeping the lyric moments from falling over the edge of "too sweet".

Below you can find 10 production pics, all © Bavarian State Opera

and some of the CC pics I took:

Kristine Opolais

Klaus Florian Vogt and Nadia Krasteva

Janina Baechle and Günther Groissböck

The main 5 roles

Tomas Hanus

OK, an extra pic:

Of not so much kitsch that you can see at BSO my favorite is this "detail" ;)


  1. I don't agree at all with this. Poor show, poor singing (especially Opolais!!!), noisy conducting. Did you see the 2008 Wieler/Morabito staging in Salzburg? THAT was great! This incest story is something for Bild (or The Sun) readers. Very disappointing from Kusej !

  2. That's fine too ;)
    There is much more to The Fritzl case than the front page of a daily tabloid. It tells a lot about the socio-psychological pathology of its protagonists the similarities of which you can find in many other situations -- such as the one I mentioned above (The Magdalene Sisters). Ultimately, it opens one's mind...

    Finally, it's the Regietheater - it's not meant to please everyone. ;)