Cher Public

Auf dem Wasser zu singen

This week’s “Trove Thursday” features noted Wagnerian Hildegard Behrens revisiting Rusalka, one of her early, lyric roles. This 1981 broadcast from the Bavarian State Opera of Dvorak’s great opera is conducted by Adam Fischer and co-stars Helga Dernesch, Livia Budai, Mikhail Svetlev and Kurt Moll

Before she attracted international notice as Leonore and Salome, Behrens was in the ensemble in Dusseldorf where, in addition to small roles like Helmwige, she sang Rusalka. A 1975 performance in German from that time was preserved and available briefly on CD issued by Gala.

In 1980, Behrens appeared in a new production of Tristan und Isolde in Munich, but the next year she returned there as Dvorak’s sad water-sprite again in German in what was, I believe, the premiere of the famed Otto SchenkGünther Schneider-Siemssen production which would later be seen in Vienna and at the Met. This broadcast provided my first acquaintance with Rusalka, and it fostered a great fondness for this gorgeous, moving opera and Behrens’s heroine.

Dvorak: Rusalka (in German)
Munich 23 March 1981

Rusalka: Hildegard Behrens
Jezibaba: Helga Dernesch
The Foreign Princess: Livia Budai
The Turnspit: Julia Conwell
The Prince: Mikhail Svetlev
The Water-Goblin: Kurt Moll
The Gamekeeper: Raimund Grumbach
The Hunter: Bodo Brinkmann

Conductor: Adam Fischer

Rusalka, long with last week’s Janet Baker Imeneo and all previous “Trove Thursday” offerings are available for download from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Bill

    Yes this production was first seen in Munich and then
    was redone in Vienna for Benackova who did it for five seasons there and later at the Met
    with Benackova and then Fleming, I think 4 interspersed seasons in total. It made another
    appearance I recall -- I think in Texas or out West someplace but I do not recall who sang Rusalka there. The production was already replaced in Vienna with one with Stoyanova and will be replaced also at the Met this next season.

    • Porgy Amor

      I know it was done in Seattle in 1990 and was a fondly remembered run there, with Fleming, Heppner, and Graham (Kitchen Boy) all having much ahead of them.

      • Camille

        October 1990. I shall never forget it. Love at first sight and first hearing, and as a result I never tire of this lovely, lovely opera.

        I had no idea the Schneider-Siemssen set was already as old as all that——and will look forward to hearing both Hildegard and Dernesch, too.

        • Camille

          Sorry to be redundant. Had not realized I’d already posted.

          Bears repeating, though. It was a beautiful and magical set of performances.

      • Camille

        October 1990. Never to be forgotten and Love at first sight and first hearing, and as a result I never tire of this lovely, lovely opera.

        I had no idea the Schneider-Siemssen set was already as old as all that in 1990 when we were lucky enough to have it visit us in Seattle———and will look forward to hearing both Hildegard and Dernesch, too, as I have now long heard of Behrens Rusalka asuumption and always guesstimated it would suit her vocal qualities quite well.

    • Vergin Vezzosa

      Same production in SF in 1995 with Fleming, Larin, Mackerras, I think it was the last show before they closed the house to fix it after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Was totally transported by the first exposure to this achingly beautiful opera which has remained among the very small handful of my favorite pieces of all time. Shocked that it has never been revived in SF.

      • la vociaccia

        Ugh Poor Larin. What a beautiful and sensitive musician.

        • Porgy Amor

          Larin is the Prince on the Fleming/Carsen DVD of the great Paris production.

  • PCally

    Had no idea she’d sung the role. Genuinely cannot stand her but this role sits in a sweet spot in her voice (the upper middle) that as heard head sounds lovely and stable.

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    Dear La Cieca, I hope you realize that I AM Livia Budai and intend to sue!!!

    • 98rsd

      Because playing Budai for anyone is defamation of character? You have a point.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        The longest, loudest and most unanimous booing of a singer I have experienced at the Met in those Trovatores with poor Big Joan and Big Lucy. In their scene in act two, Livia emitted a string of ill-tuned shrieks trying for the high C that sent Big Lucy reeling away from her. I have rarely laughed so much at the opera. Cause him to recoil? I AM she!!!!!

        • If the Budai glove-puppet fits…..

        • Krunoslav

          I know I have mentioned this before, but Budai was violently booed at the prima of San Francisco’s ANNA BOLENA, anther Sutherland/Bonynge road show, 10/25/84.

          I was THERE. And , though she was HORRIBLE ( and NOT ‘in a fantastic sense’) I didn’t boo-- Bonisolli remains the only singer I’ve booed. But that usually placid audience, who sat through some god-awful singing with little ill response ( like the ghastly Mauro/Brent Ellis/Ricciarelli OTELLO later that same decade) really let Budai have it. Judith Forst replaced her by the second show, and was excellent.

          So the Bonynges knew what they were getting with Budai at the Met three seasons later-- someone who by comparison would make Joan’s fading if still-impressive-by-the-end-of-an-evening voice sound better by comparison. They adapted this “ma femme et cing poupées” approach often in those years, with the likes of Cleopatra Ciurca and Gregory Yurisich mustered in support-- remember the scandal in Turin when they deployed Lamberto Furlan as Alfredo. This aspect of their legacy gets forgotten in roseate memories- understandably enough, since there is much so amazing to remember as well.

          • Camille

            o pfui —- to think I missed that performance and the BOO-dai-ing experience. Tant pis pour moi! Indeed, Judith Forst did distinguish herself in the subsequent performances, for one of which I WAS THERE, too! All I remember of Dear Dame Joan was that flinging open of the cape with the red lining, somewhere toward the end. She was very grand and very much the Diva de l’Empire, though, and that she was QUEEN, one had no doubt!

            “”ma femme et cinQ poupées” is such a great line--I’m always happy to see it once more.

        • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

          Speaking of recoils and physically reeling away — I remember a Met BALLO (early 80s?) when Bianca Berini as Ulrica let out a raucous but loud combo war-whoop/crack/belch/yodel attack on the E flat of “CHI voi siate” immediately following Bergonzi’s barcarolle. A startled Carlo stepped back astonished, almost jumped out of his skin and stared long and hard.

  • Ilka Saro

    I was at the opening of that Trovatore. After the Stride la Vampa — which usually receives at least a smattering of applause — it was like in those cartoons where all you hear are crickets chirping.

    The word “violent” comes to mind to describe the quality of the booing at the curtain call. But my recollection is that the boos for the director and designer were equal — and possibly even more violent — than the boos for Budai. Quite an evening…

    All the same, that night Pavarotti sang a very noble Ah si ben mio. I don’t recall the Di Quella Pira. I remember that Sutherland was sounding husky, but that in the cabaletta (?? right term ??) to D’amor, her voice still had that wonderful silvery flash on the repeated Cs. And who was the Di Luna? I think Nucci. Another terrific singer. You couldn’t really tell who the singers were in the impenetrable gloom of the mise en scene.

  • marshiemarkII

    Oh Christopher Corwin, you are an angelo dal cielo, and La C what a beautiful Christmas present!!!!!, this is a sublime performance of a glorious score!
    Christopher, do you know one of these performances was allegedly televised, would you know of any way to access it?!?!?!!?
    A few snippets from the Moon thinggy made its way into this magnificent Da Capo Program August Everding did on her in 1996:

  • Evenhanded


    I was also living in Seattle in 1990 (a VERY young opera fan at that time!). The Rusalka with Fleming and Heppner was the first live performance that truly cemented my love for the art form and I will never ever forget it. Fleming was absolutely magical -- as was the production: that truly beautiful, glittering green lake will forever remain a treasured memory. And by the way, Judith Forst also made a Seattle appearance that season: the following spring, she was Giovanna to Carol Vaness’ extremely impressive Anna Bolena.