Cher Public

Under water

Rusalka and her sisters are huddled in the flooded basement. They are dressed up in sparkly gowns and heavily made up, and of varying ages. Dvorak’s folk-tinged chorus for the water-maidens becomes their chorus of fear, as the father (Water Goblin) enters the basement, and the girls tremble nervously at who he will “pick.” Only Rusalka does not move. She lies motionless on the couch, as longtime victims of abuse will sometimes do, already anticipating the worst.

In 2008, authorities in Austria discovered a horrifying case of child abuse and incest in the home of Josef Fritzl. For 24 years, he had held his daughter Elisabeth captive in a basement. The father and daughter had an incestuous relationship that resulted in the birth of seven children. Fritzl’s wife and Elisabeth’s mother had apparently been compliant and raised some of the children as her own.

The whole case could have made the basis of its own opera, but director Martin Kusej decided to make the Fritzl family tragedy the inspiration for his production of Rusalka, filmed at the Bayerisches Staatsoper in 2010. The classic “little mermaid” fairy tale has become a dark allegory about child abuse.

Rusalka’s father is dressed in a filthy wifebeater, a blue bathrobe, and track pants, and smokes a cigarette. He has his way with her before she sings the famous “Song to the Moon.” The “moon” is a bright lamp in the basement — the only light Rusalka is allowed to see. In this case, the aria not only a symbolic fairy tale figure’s longing for love, it becomes a desperate girl’s paean to freedom.

When Jezibaba finally grants Rusalka her freedom into the “human” world, she cruelly puts her daughter in trashy-looking red stilettos that Rusalka is unable to walk in. She’s mute as well. Her first real encounter with the Prince is also violent: he’s holding a hunting rifle. She stares at him blankly as he puts her stilettos back on and carries her offstage. Rusalka has traded one unhappiness for another: she’s gone from a sexual prisoner to sex object.

Act Two starts with the gamekeeper, who has a huge stuffed deer, and he molests his niece as she’s forced to pick at the deer’s guts. Rusalka watches in horror — it reminds her of her own relationship with her father. The Prince is a faithless, shallow lover as expected — the Princess comes onstage and boldly seduces the Prince in front of Rusalka. The humiliated Rusalka starts slapping herself. The direction here is faultless, and Kusej is able to make Rusalka’s plight very human.

There’s a horrifying wedding procession with brides carrying disemboweled deer. Rusalka finds herself drawn back to her old life, monstrous as it might have been. The famous aria “Beda, beda” is in this production a threat by the abusive father to her daughter. Rusalka even sinks into a fishtank as her father watches.

Act Three has Rusalka back in the living room of her cold and distant mother. Her mother delivers her lecture to Rusalka while holding a knife to her. It’s consistent with both the Fritzl case, where the mother was apparently compliant of her daughter’s captivity, and the testimony of many victims of incest, who say that the mothers often focus the blame on the daughters instead of the husbands.

The gamekeeper makes an appearance again — the Water Goblin stabs him to death in a fit of rage. Afterwards, the father and his daughters are carted off to an asylum. The Prince expires in Rusalka’s arms in an asylum, where she is presumably imprisoned for life with her abusive father and sisters.Kusej’s take on the opera is obviously extremely dark and at times hard to watch. But then again, most fairy tales in their original form are not Disney movies — they are violent, with disturbing sexual undertones. Dvorak’s music is intense and moments of great melodic beauty are constantly interrupted by sinister, dissonant chords.

If there is one weakness in the production I’d say that the Prince is never very well-integrated into the storyline. The story is so focused on Rusalka’s relationship with her family that the Prince is a cipher. If he never cared about Rusalka, why did he visit her in the insane asylum? Unless the Prince’s visit is a hallucination? And why would he commit suicide for a woman he had so little regard for? It’s never very clear.

In a less concept-driven production, these inconsistencies would be explained by “It’s a fairy tale. The Prince has to kiss her before the story is over.” In Kusej’s production, this hole in the plot becomes noticeable. But otherwise the production is a powerful, unforgettable re-imagining of the opera.Another caveat I’d give about watching this DVD is that I think it requires a fairly strong background knowledge of the opera and the news events that inspired the production.

One must be familiar with the Little Mermaid tale (not the Disney version), and a healthy familiarity with the dark original Germanic fairy tales (e.g., “Sleeping Beauty” doesn’t end with the Prince kissing her — he rapes her, and she bears him two children before she wakes up from her dream) would also increase an understanding of the production’s concept. The Fritzl case was notorious in the news, but again, background knowledge of the case helps. In other words, the production is, despite its sensationalistic imagery, somewhat of a rarefied taste.

The performance is anchored by the stunning performance of Kristine Opolais in the title role. If your idea of Rusalka is Renee Fleming or the old recording with Gabriella Benackova, Opolais’s might not be your cup of tea. Opolais’s voice doesn’t have the beauty of those two other famous artists, and at times it can sound harsh and glassy. But the role is a long one, that calls for lyrical beauty as well as veristic outbursts. Opolais’s voice has the cut and bite to handle Dvorak’s heavy orchestration in the second and third acts.

What’s more important, she is a great actress — the character’s fear, horror, longing, despair, and hope are all brilliantly conveyed by Opolais. With another singer, the facial expressions and physical wincing and writhing might seem overwrought, but Opolais makes you believe. The performance gathered buzz throughout the opera world, and Opolais is set to make her debut as Magda in La Rondine at the Met next season. I will definitely have a ticket.

Klaus Florian Vogt’s Prince has a clear, bright, tenor voice, but having only heard Vogt in recordings, to me he sounds like a Mozart tenor singing the lyrical heldentenor roles. His voice is very light and under pressure has a nasal edge. Maybe if I heard him live it’d be different because I know he’s garnered excellent reviews in many opera houses.

Nadia Krasteva has a deep, throaty, rich mezzo voice that screams “In a few years I will be in demand everywhere as Dalila and Carmen.” But maybe the best supporting performances came from Günther Groissböck. as the Water Goblin and Janina Baechle as Jezibaba. They were intense and frighteningly creepy as the cruel parents of the water maidens.

Opera on Blu-ray continues to be somewhat problematic. The increased definition picture quality (along with the trend of filming almost exclusively in closeups) means that sometimes what would likely be stunning effects in the theater up-close on TV look artificial. The wig lines, the heavy stage makeup, the fake mustaches, the clear stockings that Opolais wears in order to avoid walking barefoot onstage, are all too visible on Blu-ray. But still, this production and performance are both highly recommended.

  • Clita del Toro

    OT: I am furious. On my Sirius radio the Siegfried started on time this evening. On my lap top Sirius, it is starting 44 minutes later. It was never this way until last Saturday. Anyone else having the same problem?

    • bluecabochon

      Clita, I have had this problem. Are you using the beta version of the player? The “old” player and beta version are not simultaneous, schedule-wise. I will use only the “old” player now.

  • CruzSF

    poisonivy, thanks for a well-considered review of what sounds like a fascinating production. I’ve not seen or heard Rusalka in any form (I MUST have heard Song to the Moon at some point, but I don’t remember it) and I don’t think this particular production should be my introduction to the work (as you suggest yourself), but I look forward to seeing it as a 2nd or 3rd production, after I’ve become familiar with the opera through traditional stagings and have had time to think about its implications on my own. You convey the intriguing aspects of Kusej’s telling very well, nonetheless.

    • Cruz, you must simply get the Chalabala recording of Rusalka. It’s a great starting point for this beautiful, haunting opera.

      • CruzSF

        Thanks for the recommendation, pi! I’m looking for an entry point for this opera.

        • Simon

          Is the lip-synched video version of the Chalabala recording worth watching?

          • No. It’s horribly acted, lip-synched, and the score is slashed to pieces.

          • CruzSF

            So I should stick to the CD version?

          • Yes you should. The recording with Benackova is really good too.

          • CruzSF

            Ordered! Thanks again.

      • MontyNostry

        I LOVE that version of the ara, which I discovered a while ago on YouTube. Fleming acolytes should be forced to listen to it!

        • Rowna

          I heard Renee sing this live many years ago (maybe over 10), at a concert in Pittsburgh and she was ravishing, vocally. At that time she had no vocal idiosyncracies.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Rowna, unless you mean ‘on that occasion she had no vocal idiosyncracies’, your statement is not true -- Fleming has had them from the start. She doesn’t always indulge in them to the same extent, but they have been there from the get go, evident on her Mozart recital disc from, what, 1995? I really like Renee Fleming but one has to acknowledge the idiosyncracies, and in so doing also acknowledge the fact that their development is not a linear thing. I’d say that one is just as likely to hear an unmannered performance from Fleming today as one was 10 or 15 years ago -- it depends on the piece, her mood and the general circumstances whether you’ll get clean and tidy Renee or mannered bordering on the downright eccentric Renee.

          • Rowna

            Hi Cocky -- re vocal idiosyncracies -- there are those that are annoying and those that just give you an individual sound. Trying to remember the year -- was 2002 or so . . and maybe I have bad ears or a bad memory, but I thought the singing was gorgeous. I have since heard her live 2 more times. Later on, the idiosyncracies prevented me from enjoying her singing. All you noticed were those little pieces of technique that were weird. And you weren’t there at the concert -- she is an amazing vocalist and I believe her voice is produced the way she wishes it. I am not trying to defend the way she sings now, but at the beginning of her career, I enjoyed her but did notice the scooping, which of course, became part of her signature.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Rowna, don’t misunderstand me -- I agree 100% with your statement that ‘she is an amazing vocalist and I believe her voice is produced the way she wishes it’. I also don’t dispute for a second how she sang when you heard her. What I’m saying is that the idiosyncracies have not developed in a linear fashion -- you could hear her in 2002 come up with something very mannered and strange (which I did -- Rodelinda) and then shortly afterwards or around the same time sing something perfectly cleanly and simply (which you did, your Rusalka, and which I also did -- Rusalka in 2003, though somebody else on this board assures me it was mannered too). Some of the things I’ve heard from her in recent years have similarly been very direct and straight forward in terms of vocal production, and then she’ll turn around and give you a 4 Last Songs that splurges all over the place with weird touches. Not unlike a singer such as Dame Gwyneth, where you never quite knew what you were going to get on any given night, except that in Dame Gwyneth’s case it was mainly down to unreliability of technique, whereas in Fleming’s case I agree with you that it’s down to her own artistic choices.

          • Rowna

            Thanks for your response Cocky. I, too, heard her in Rodelinda, first time around. I thought her voice was ill suited for the style, in fact, I thought the whole opera was a bad choice for the Met, even though there was some fabulous singing -- especially David Daniels and Stephanie Blythe -- and very good from Bejun Mehta. Her singing was technically very good, but after a while it grated on me. All those runs sounded boring. Later I heard her in Onegin -- disappointing :( A few years ago I saw the HD Thais and thought this was a wonderful role for her. Now I cringe when I hear her. Her vocal mannerisms have taken on a life of their own, and now define her. I never heard Dame Gwyneth live, but I don’t like her from the recordings or clips I have heard and seen.

          • armerjacquino

            Yes, the mannerisms have always come and gone. I certainly wouldn’t agree that she ‘had no vocal idiosyncracies’ 10 years ago.

            Sometimes you’d even get both Renees in the same night- I saw a Prom in 2001 where a filthy, crooning ‘Exultate Jubilate’ (complete with Ruhe Sanft’s melody chucked into a cadenza!) was followed by an utterly exquisite, stylistically faithful Four Last Songs.

          • Rowna

            Audio memory is not so exact -- especially for me. I am often swept away by an overall experience. I love that you can go to an opera or concert and be transported. I think some people lose sight (hearing?) of this when discussing artists, or events. Perhaps if I had a recording of the concert I heard 10 years ago I would assess it differently, but it was the experience that I enjoyed -- Ms Fleming coming out on stage (Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh -- a totally different venue from the NYC one) and seducing the audience with her impeccable musicianship and lush sound. Perhaps she was as mannered as today -- I can’t say for sure. But it was the first time I heard her live, loved the concert, and had no complaints -- and you know, we sopranos are pretty critical of other sopranos!

          • Camille

            This discussion re Renée’s Ruska sparks a huge ember of memory with me: as I have often said here, I, by merest happenstance, had the chance of hearing her sing a performance of Rusalla in October 1990, (Seattle Opera). It was exquisite and utterly unlike the next Rusalka I heard from her, in May 1997, at the Met. Changed into the now familiar swoopings we have long since been acquainted with. I have never heard her sing again as she once did, almost twenty-two years ago and I feel bereft. How do I remember so well what she sounded like from October 1990? I made a recording from one of the performances which was transmitted over the radio and listened to it over and over for the next couple years. When I heard her again in 1997, singing the same opera I was, well, shocked at the differences. What I’m saying is that the ‘mannerisms’ set in pretty early on, as far as my experience has been of her, with occasional bits surfacing in which she sang as in my memory, that last Thaïs, the Proms concert in which she sang “Ich ging zu ihm” from Wunder des Heliane—--I just don’t understand why it couldn’t be more consistent, as she is so intelligent musically speaking and prodigious vocally.
            An embarrassment of riches, perhaps.

            Just a week ago I heard the Rodelinda on television. All I could think was: why? She baffles me.

            Sorry to butt in on another’s discourse but it is a subject--aural memory--which intrigues me greatly, and one on this morning, with which I find myself wrestling in Re Vec Makropoulos! I cannot believe the difference in what I heard last night from what was given in 1998/2001.

          • Camille

            Pardon my typos, of course it was ‘Rusalka’, and not those other misspelled approximations of same, which I meant.

          • Rowna

            Camille -- thanks for picking up on aural memory -- is a fascinating subject to me. There are singers I heard in my youth, who I adored, and now when I hear them on records or youtube clips, I find so much NOT TO LIKE! How can that be????? I guess we grow our thinking ears, as we grow our intelligence. I had heard Judith Blegen on the radio so many times during the 70s and just loved her, now I hear a some flaws and a smaller voice. This is just one example.

          • Clita del Toro

            I have never seen Renee in person. The closest I have come to that was the Rosenkavalier HD, which I walked out of after Act I--as I found her Marschallin smarmy and artificial.

            I no longer even like the sound of her voice as it too often comes with her unctuous mannerisms. The voice itself now sounds like a mannerism to me.

            My main problem wit her singing is that, as others have noted, the “mannerisms” appear to be an artistic choice; or I am beginning to think, maybe there is just something weird about Renee which makes her sing that way, and that she just can’t help it--which is even scarier??? LOL

          • armerjacquino

            Aural memory is one thing, and is of course as fascinating in its flaws as in its accuracies as in its subjectivities, but I can’t see what that has to do with CKs original point, which is that Fleming’s ‘idiosyncracies’ haven’t developed in a linear fashion. She can give clean restrained performances in 2012 and she could give swoopy vulgar ones in 1990.

          • armerjacquino

            Or, to put it another way, the biggest idiosyncracy, and the one constant, is that you never know which Fleming you’re going to get.

          • Clita del Toro

            Rowna: I can’t think of many singers who I liked in the past and have drastically changed my mind about. The changes either happened early on or in a subtler or less dramatic fashion. For example: in the case of Tebaldi, I Adored her from 1954 to about 1960 and then kinda lost interest because imo the voice was not what it was earlier on.

            I do appreciate Sutherland more than I did in the old days, even though I was at her NY and Met debuts and saw a lot of what she sang. I am not now a wild Sutherland fan, but do enjoy hearing her. I still would not buy any of her recordings.

            I guess this means that I either have a very rigid personality or that I knew what I liked from the beginning. ??

          • I watched the PBS broadcast of the Rodelinda the other day. Fleming was maddening. All that cooing and sliding really ruined her singing, especially in florid sections where the combination of sliding pitch and fast runs resulted in a weird, soupy end-product. However, when it came to the big duet with Scholl, she kept everything mostly in check and the two of them delivered a beautiful moment.

            Blythe was wonderful. She is able to negotiate her big voice in a way that is both suitable to Handel and true to her own voice. Scholl and Davies both did some beautiful singing.

          • MontyNostry

            When I saw Renee do a concert Thais, she was painfully mannered as the bad girl and exquisite and pure as the good girl -- so we had bad and good Renee in one opera! My feeling with her is that it’s all in her head -- she is overtrained and overanalytical, but she doesn’t have the sheer ruthlessness of the overtrained creature Legge created with Schwarzkopf. She is somehow too afraid to follow her heart or her instincts. When Leontyne is being gusty and mannered, you still feel there’s a lovable human being in there. Renee makes herself sound like a contruct. As I’ve said many times before, it is such a shame with a voice and technique like hers.

          • Monty: I think it’s simpler than that. It’s a question of taste and Fleming lacks it utterly. She is a fabulous singer from a technical perspective (though her coloratura singing isn’t what it once was) and the voice is still very attractive. She just has bad taste. When she sings the music straight, the results may be a bit boring interpretively but still great vocally. When she decides to “do something” with the music, we get her mannerisms.

          • dgf

            I agree that Fleming has become so mannered that I find her nearly unlistenable. I recently heard a recording of “Beau Soir” by Debussy on Sirius radio, and I was stunned at how mannered it was. It was truly in poor taste, and clearly a conscious decision on her part to sing it this way. I was at the Met last week and in the gift shop they were broacasting “Rusalka” with Reneigh. From across the room I knew the voice instantly, but again I was taken with her scooping and crooning in baying her “Song to the Moon”. I am never quite sure as to why a singer becomes so mannered. Is it an aristic choice, or is it that the singer’s technique and vocal estate are comprimised to the extent they can only rely on vocal tricks? Other singers that come to mind that became arch and mannered in mid to late career are Schwarzkopf, Scotto, L. Price, Norman, Caballe, Matilla. They, among many others, frequently cross/crossed the boundaries of tasteful singing.

          • dgf

            sorry… artistic and compromised that is.

          • Clita del Toro

            I think the mannerisms in Price and Scotto’s cases are mostly of a technical nature, but not completely. Just a guess. With Schwarzkopf, I wouldn’t hazard a guess, only she, God and Legge know that.
            And In Reneigh’s case, I really, truly think she a a petit screw loose somewhere. I couldn’t care less about Caballe’s.

          • I also think that Norman had technical issues which caused her voice to be less and less responsive as the 90s progressed. Yes, she became more and more arch (especially in her physical carriage), but still, her vocal mannerisms aren’t nearly as offensive to my ears as Fleming’s.

          • Rowna

            More food for thought on this thread dealing with vocal idiosyncrasies -- now that I think about it, which singer doesn’t have one? Most of my vocal idols were women. I know more about the female voice, and I can say that part of what made them great was a point of individuality -- even if it wasn’t necessarily an asset. Price had a “white” sound in certain areas of her voice -- especially when singing Mozart or Strauss plus her transitions could be jarring; Sutherland could scoop with the best of them; Bartoli has a big list: weirdo vowels, hahahaing through the coloratura passages which she can do very well, etc.; Netrebko -- generalized sloppy passagework with lush tones to make you forget that her technique doesn’t match her beautiful voice. Pavarotti at the end of his career picked up quite a few nasty vocal tics. And can someone explain to me how a singer sings out of just ONE side of their mouth? I also teach voice (no laughing please) and have thought -- maybe I should teach them to sing the way Bryn or Morris sing -- through just one side of the mouth! Just saying.

          • Batty Masetto

            Rowna, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you yourself are doing anything amiss, but I just posted a comment in the Kaufmann thread along the same lines -- is the effort to iron out “idiosyncrasies” in voice students’ production also eliminating some potentially great voices in the process?

            From Callas to Tebaldi to Price to Nilsson to Vickers to London and on and on, many of the “Golden Age” singers had odd things about their voices (which have also come in for criticism here). But Nilsson herself said her first voice teacher almost ruined her voice, and Kaufmann has said the same thing. Maybe some things shouldn’t be “fixed?”

          • Rowna

            Batty Masetto (another name I wish I had thought of) -- you are more right than wrong. Heck, what do I know . . . maybe I have already ruined the next great singer, trying to get them to smooth this out, learn how sing more legato, etc. Re Kaufmann -- I adore his singing. However, I would have told him to forget the tenor thing and just be a baritone! I know everyone on Parterre Box will love this -- one of my earlier teachers told me to “sing from your vagina!” And of course, I did! His name was William Wilkerson -- anyone here remember him? He was called Wilkie. Teachers are another subject we could go round and round on . . a help or hinderance? Depends on where you are and where you are going.

    • Henry Holland

      CruzSF, there was a wonderful traditional production in San Francisco in 1995, with an excellent cast:

      For me, Felicity Palmer stole the show as Jezibaba but it was really well sung and conducted all ’round.

      • CruzSF

        With Mackerras conducting and Zheng Cao as the Kitchen Boy?! And Sybase sponsored one performance… You dont see that anymore. Too early for me, I’m afraid. I’m sorry I missed it (and didn’t know it existed). Pity they didn’t record and release it.

        • derschatzgabber

          Cruz, it’s a shame you missed that Rusalka. It was the last production before they closed the house for 1.5 years to repair the damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake and do seismic retrofitting. The production was hyper traditional and relied on very effective, old-fashioned stage technology. The illusion of the lake was created with several, parallel sheets of reflective fabric, painted to look like waves. All through the opera, stage hands sat in each wing, rustling the fabric to create the illusion of watery motion. I wonder if that optical illusion would work in a film. In the house, the illusion was very effective.

          Renee Fleming was on her best behavior, with very little evidence of the mannerisms that eventually alienated so many opera fans.

          After the final matinee, the cast and crew took their curtain calls in hard hats, since the construction crews were showing up the next morning. In the lobby, posters from prior productions were given away to audience members. I have still have several of them hanging on the walls in my home.

          • CruzSF

            Wow. Just wow. The only good thing I can take from never seeing Rusalka here is that it’s overdue for a return to SF. It’s been nearly 20 years!

      • Nerva Nelli

        I saw two of those performances and Stephanie Sundine’s Foreign Princess (a tough sing at best) was just unspeakable to hear. (She was a good artist but should have stayed a mezzo, like so many others before and since.) Phillip Skinner’s Water Gnome was fine but underpowered. Everyone else indeed **very** good, though, and Mackerras led brillianty. It was nice back then when Miss Fleming exceeded her hype.

        • derschatzgabber

          Hi Nerva, did you catch Sundine as Emilia Marty in SF in 1993, with Mackerras conducting? I seem to recall that she was in better shape vocally for the 1993 Makropulos, than in the 1995 Rusalka. It was my first live exposure to Makropulos, and the last scene left me in tears. So my response to the opera may have blinded my ears to any vocal imperfections. I just checked the archives and noticed that William Burden sang Janek in 1993. It was probably the last time he appeared in SF in a role that small.

      • brooklynpunk

        This was an AMAZING night at The War Memorial Opera House, INDEED!

        THANK-YOU, HARRY, for bringing back such wonderful memories!!

        • brooklynpunk

          ..SORRY… THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN --THANKS..HENRY!!!!( ooops!)

      • Clita del Toro

        Monty, but Schwarzkopf did it so well and so “naturally,” if you can excuse the expression! LOL , and it’s so much fun to hear. I do think what we hear from her is totally her personality, whether Legge helped her or not--and if it’s “ruthless,” I still love it.

        Don’t get me wrong, I adore other singers is Strauss as much as Liz (della Casa, Crespin,Leonie, Söderström, Schwanewilms, etc) but still Liz is one of a kind.
        I once was at a concert where ES sang a Mozart aria or song??. She made it sound more like Wolf, if you know what I mean--didn’t sound like Mozart at all--now who else can accomplish that? LOL

        • MontyNostry

          From Alan Blyth’s obituary of Sena Jurinac: “At dinner one evening there was discussion of that 1947 season. Of Schwarzkopf’s somewhat obtrusive technique, she remarked: “Dear Elisabeth – she gets one note from her elbow, another from the back of her neck.” She then jumped up to demonstrate. We fell about.”

  • andromakhina

    On/off topic about the Fritzl case: the mother was not actually compliant with or in any knowledge of what was happening downstairs -- Elisabeth Fritzl was mad at her for not investigating into EF’s disappearence and taking her husband’s comments at face value (Josef Fritzl was convicted of rape some time before he imprisoned her daughter, so one could be at least suspicious). Of course, it’s just her case -- as poisonivy has put a number of mothers do act like Kusej’s Jezibaba in similar cases. Just wanted to clarify it, sort of -- beautiful review.

    P.S. I’ve been following Parterre for some time, this is my first post, I’m a 20-something opera enthusiast from (of all places) Turkey (native), I don’t know if I was supposed to write this sort of “hallo, ich bin neuer” note but I did anyway. cheers

    • andromakhina

      *as poisonivy has put IT, of course.

      • Hi andromakhina — I’ve read quite a bit about the Fritzl case, and it’s ambiguous how much the mother knew, but she did officially simply “accept” that Elisabeth had “run away” and raised the three babies that the father “found” and propagated the lie to social workers. I believe mother and daughter are estranged because Elisabeth believed her mother to be at least passively compliant, or massively in denial. I mean, this went on in the mother’s own basement. On some level, you have to ask — how could she not know?

  • Porgy Amor

    CruzSF: Setting aside the heavily cut film that poisonivy correctly steers you away from, there really isn’t a “straight” take on this opera on video, interestingly — nothing like the Schenk’s literal fairy-tale treatment for the Met. The opera has emerged as a Regietheater favorite in the last decade. I don’t know if this is statistically borne out, but every new production I read about seems to have a conceptual twist: Rusalka as child-abuse victim, Rusalka as prostitute (this has been tried a few ways), Rusalka as aspiring opera singer, the opera set in a brothel, a theater, a Victorian nursery, etc.

    Robert Carsen’s Paris production with Fleming, a stark modern-dress psychodrama that seizes on the theme of relationships doomed by an inability to communicate and connect, was controversial when new, but it doesn’t seem that radical now, so has the scale slid. It’s probably the safest and best available bet for what you describe you’re looking for. And it’s musically quite good (Diadkova, Urbanova, Larin, Hawlata, Senechal…a cast of distinction down the line).

    • CruzSF

      Thanks, PorgyAmor, for the pointer to the DVD. I don’t want to start another round of Fleming-bashing (which has been tiresome the last few rounds), so I’ll just say that I’d hoped to avoid her in Rusalka, even though I know it’s one of her signature roles. But, I see the Carsen production was recorded 10 years ago and I’ll take a chance that she was on good behavior then. Your recommendation certainly helps allay my fears.

      • lorenzo.venezia

        the carsen production in its entirety is on YouTube, so you can check it out there and see if it’s to your liking.

        • CruzSF

          Hoho! Thanks, lorenzo!

      • Porgy Amor

        I skimmed my DVD, and I may like that production even more than I thought I had. What stood out in my mind was the much-discussed bedroom set of Act 2, with the symbolic mirror effect (a device RC has used elsewhere since); I had forgotten the cool atmospheric water effects for the outer acts.

        Bear in mind that by standards of p-box, I am a Fleming admirer. I don’t go for everything she does (no DARK HOPE or ARMIDA DVD), and sometimes I have strong reservations even about performances I like overall; but when the last page is writ on her career, she will have left me more good memories than bad ones, and I think she is one of our great talents of the last quarter century. Sometimes, singing in a language at which she has to work especially hard (Russian, Czech) seems to have a concentrating effect on her, as if she has less left over for her tics and indulgences; you get a cleaner line. By this RUSALKA performance, she had been essaying this role for a while, though, and it has some of the best of her (the very climax of the moon aria is breathtaking) and some of the side I don’t like (along the way, some trying-too-hard droopy phrasing in the same aria; and as always when they work together, Conlon gives her more rope in milking big star-turn moments than he should).

        I still would recommend this highly. It’s an attractive staging with a strong visual style and an engagement with themes integral to the material, but it doesn’t go so far down a path of its own that someone not too familiar with the opera will be bewildered. And there is that fine cast, especially good on the two mezzo bitches. But let YouTube be your guide.

        By the way, although I didn’t say it earlier, I too loved poisonivy’s review of the Kusej!

  • Thank you PI, I ordered this DVD a few days ago and it came today! Now I am really psyched.

  • brunettino

    Was the director of the Saw franchise not available?

  • Feldmarschallin

    Great review Ivy. The production is coming back in November with Martinez, Beczala and Griossböck. Very much looking forward to it. I hadn’t seen Vargas in quite some time and he looks very thin now last night in the Luisa Miller. Farnochnia who was new to me was quite good as Luisa and Lucic excellent as Miller.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Feldmarschallin -- Ana Maria or Iride Martinez?

  • MontyNostry

    It’s a pity that Opolais’ Met debut is in such a wimpy role as Magda — and it’s probably a role that needs a more conventionally pretty voice too. I hope too that her young daughter’s health is improving after recent crises.

  • Nerva Nelli

    Segueing in from mention of San Francisco Opera, can anyone tell us anything about the Scottish conductor of their upcoming FLUTE, Rory Macdonald — aside from the obvious fact that nowhere in North America could a commensurate talent be found?

    • ianw2

      He’s a rapidly rising young talent (think a younger, Scottish Nezet-Seguin) who is already conducting at major international houses. He has worked in North America for years, despite being, like 15 years old or something.

    • Often admonished

      Macdonald worked under Pappano at ROH displaying the predictable puppyish enthusiasm but some core musicality. He appears to be comfortable working with the stage and may turn out well.

  • Andrew Powell

    The work of Tomáš Hanus is not mentioned.

  • MontyNostry

    OT, but how about this outrage from Covent Garden? Repeating Act II of Boheme to accommodate an amateur celebrity conductor from a ‘Dancing With The Stars’-type TV show …

    • CruzSF

      I saw the news of that nonsense at Intermezzo. I guess you’ll have time for dessert between the real act II and the real act III.

      • armerjacquino

        I seem to remember manou saying she had tickets for Saturday’s performance: I do hope she sticks around to give us her opinion on Act II mk II!

        • manou

          Yes, armer -- I am fighting with my husband who is not keen to go now (he has given up fishing on the Test that day…). It is impossible to exchange the tickets (all other performances pretty much sold out), so I might take one of my daughters if the husband still reluctant (and prefers to murder trout).

          I shall certainly stick around and report!

        • MontyNostry

          As opposed to marshiemarkII?

          There was rather an amusing John Copley anecdote in the new Opera Now. Apparently, he worked on the 1964 Callas Tosca at the ROH. Standing in for La Divina in a rehearsal, he **sang** the role. Some hack from the Daily Mail or somewhere was in the Crush Bar at the time and subsequently wrote that he had overheard Callas’ “glorious tone” . From then on, Copley was known among the backstage staff as Gloria Stone.