Cher Public

Water, logged

So, how excited are you to read another piece about the Mary Zimmerman Rusalka? And to read even more from me about Dvorák’s Rusalka

One of the reasons I have not written about more of the Met HDs (I reviewed one in 2015) is that HD is a lonely, tardy beat. By the time the Met’s productions get beamed to screens out here in flyover country, they are ground very well covered, especially on an enthusiast’s site such as parterre box. We hear about the production in advance and speculate about how good or bad it will be, the production opens, early reactions appear in comments, the official reviews trickle in over a few days, pro and con arguments rage for a while, and by HD time there are fresher topics. Usually I feel there is little to add. If I am to take a crack at the production, I would rather wait for a home video release.

This time, however, the notion had appeal as a pendant to the two-part Rusalka survey linked above. I emptied my mind of things heard and read about the production, gave Ms. Zimmerman, Maestro Mark Elder, and the singers clean slates for any bad or good deeds they have done in the past, and spent a Saturday afternoon in the dark with Dvorák’s score, the smell of popcorn in the air.

Rusalka is Ms. Zimmerman’s fourth Met production. Her 2007 debut, a mildly interventionist Victorian ghost story take on Lucia di Lammermoor, received mixed reviews, and her followups of Sonnambula and Armida were greeted with outright hostility. In interviews prior to the opening of Rusalka, she was at pains to emphasize that her Rusalka would be by the book (“I’m not putting it in Paris, and [Rusalka’s] not a prostitute or anything like that”), a fairy-tale treatment of Jaroslav Kvapil’s libretto.

I did wonder if this were a case of a director getting her ears pinned back a couple times, drawing a conclusion about “what the (opera) public wants,” and trying for a popular hit. However, I take Ms. Zimmerman at her word that she gives each piece she stages individual consideration and arrives at the idea that makes sense to her. Rusalka does not have to be explicitly allegorical and does not need to be in modern dress, although great productions have gone that way. The parameters of fantasy/”fairy tale” leave plenty of room for creativity. Most of us have seen a broad range of imaginative Zauberflötes, for example, which created enchanted worlds very different from one another.

In the event, I found little enchantment in the world Ms. Zimmerman and her design team created for Rusalka. The best that can be said is that this looks less dated and can be more brightly lit than what it replaced, the 1987 Otto Schenk/Günther Schneider-Siemssen production the Met acquired and staged from 1993 through 2014.

Colorful sets (Daniel Ostling) and costumes (Mara Blumenfeld) place us in a stylized version of some 18th-century European land. The Prince has liveried servants in powdered wigs, and the human characters wear breeches and panniers. Inhuman characters (Water Goblin, Wood Nymphs, Jezibaba) are in would-be outrageous camp costumes bearing traces of the same period. The Water Goblin resembles a frog, but with a royal robe and crown. Jezibaba’s high-necked dress is covered with spider webs. Some of the Nymphs (several mute ones fill out the ranks) wear panniers too, made of moss and flowers. The pre-transformation Rusalka’s long gown is appliquéd with lily pads, and she is unflatteringly bewigged with a flaxen/aquamarine ombre crimp.

Ms. Zimmerman began with an experienced operatic cast and material full of emotion and ambiguity; I wish she had made more of the opportunity. The direction and design conspire for a pop-up-book harmlessness that keeps the material safely silly. No one will leave the theater troubled in the least, except for those of us who take Rusalka seriously.

I did find astute the decision to have the Prince shown “hunting” for Rusalka in each act, even the second act. An adjustment of Mr. Ostling’s set, following the Act Two Gamekeeper/Turnspit scene, allows us to see the Prince chasing Rusalka through rooms of the palace before catching up to her. I also liked Rusalka donning the dead Prince’s discarded robe (timed to the orchestra’s last word, the “Prince” motif from dignified brass) and wandering off into the moonlight, a somber wraith, as the lights dim. The polonaise is staged conventionally to dramatize Rusalka’s exclusion and uncertainty, but Austin McCormick‘s choreography imaginatively bridges eras, from the formality of a more decorous time to modernity.

This is not much over three hours, and other novel touches go for little. Jezibaba’s transformation of Rusalka takes place on an operating table behind a curtain, with a half-human cat, rat and crow assisting. The Water Goblin is frailer than in most productions, dependent on the Nymphs to lay out lily pads for his steps. His visit to the Prince’s palace is a dehydrating experience, and Rusalka must dab him with water from a Lucite bucket. When the Goblin returns to curse the Prince, he enters from a convenient downpour and thus is restored to full strength.

On the whole, it is fitful, shallow work, seeming neither deeply felt nor strongly guided, a typical result when a competent director from another branch of theater tries opera. We have been here before at the Peter Gelb Met, too often.

An outstanding performance from conductor and cast might have pushed disappointment about the production into the margins. Elder clearly loves this score and has long experience with it, but his reading is not inspired work. An ineffectual plod through the prelude proves representative–accents are softened, contrasts downplayed, and musical developments do not reach their potential. Although Elder had a better orchestra this time around, the result is similar to the performance on his English National Opera DVD of 30 years ago: an understated approach that deprives the music of color, life, momentum. A generalized pallor hangs over each scene.

Kristine Opolais was singing her first Met performances of the role that established her as an international star in 2010. On the movie screen or in house, at least, she makes a stronger effect than she has in other recent roles of my experience with her (Cio-Cio San, Mimì, Manon Lescaut, the Boito Margherita). She has a cool, studied quality that can be distancing in Italian heroines who beg for more direct appeal, but is well suited to the strange Rusalka.

Opolais fills her stage work with expressive detail, and if this occasionally comes off as calculated, it does show a grasp of character and situation. She has thought the role through. From the vocal standpoint, she benefits from her experience. I continue to have my technical reservations, but she contrives her way around difficulties and makes an honest effort to serve the music and to deliver the messages it carries. On this date, the tone sounded somewhat rejuvenated from the opening-night stream earlier this month. It was perhaps the best result one could have hoped for with a less than voluptuous sound in a beautiful-voice role.

Katarina Dalayman‘s visits to the Met have been exclusively in Wagner operas following a 2006 Wozzeck. Neither the Czech words nor the tessitura of the Foreign Princess sounded comfortable for her, and the Princess’s two appearances did not register strongly. The role is brief and one-note, but others have done more with it.

Jamie Barton‘s Jezibaba boasted the freshest, most imposing and luxurious voice of any of these principals, and obviously enjoyed her opportunities to cackle and cavort. Certainly, there is nothing to criticize in the way Jezibaba’s music was delivered. If I did not find this performance quite the triumph that has been widely written up, it may be because I felt Barton needed a stronger directorial hand. There is a fine line between enthusiasm and crassness, and this landed on the wrong side of it.

Brandon Jovanovich‘s Prince seems still a work in progress. The Montana-born tenor has a promising sound for this role, dark and robust, but he lacks a consistent legato. The role of the Prince grows higher as the evening progresses, and Jovanovich, a “middle voice” tenor who has had successes in operas of Beethoven and Wagner, managed cautiously in the final scene, sliding up to a terrifying high C. He fared no better than anyone else under Ms. Zimmerman’s direction, with a basic storybook-hero presence rather than a personality.

Eric Owens is a singer one wants to think well of, and gravitas, or “nobility” if you like, comes easily to him. The sound has lost evenness and integrity since his acclaimed Alberich for this theater at the dawn of the decade. Much of his Water Goblin was undermined by unsteady tone and a craggier quality than a 46-year-old bass-baritone might be expected to have. Always a sincere performer, he was affecting in the Act Two aria even so.

Alan Opie and Daniela Mack neither added nor detracted much as Gamekeeper and Turnspit, respectively. Opie sounded under the weather (as approximately half of the Met’s roster has sounded this winter) and was briefly out of rhythm with Elder and orchestra. Hyesang Park made a lovely First Nymph.

Most of the seats at my movie theater were filled, not the case for Roméo et Juliette last month. The friend who accompanied me to this, who had gone in with no knowledge of Rusalka other than familiarity with the story from other adaptations, enjoyed the opera but said as we were leaving, “That was very literal.” I joked to La Cieca that we should just run those four words under a picture of Rusalka, the Goblin, and the Lucite water bucket. Shortest Porgy Amor review ever.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani handled his HD hosting debut well, reading prepared copy smoothly and keeping interviews on track and within time limits. The highlight of the afternoon, an annihilating one relative to the performance it accompanied, was an intermission preview of a forthcoming Susan Froemke documentary in observance of the Met’s 50 years at Lincoln Center. In the film excerpt, Leontyne Price, interviewed shortly before her 90th birthday, recalled the troubled world-premiere production of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra that opened the new house.

Presented with a picture of herself and Barber, the legendary soprano cried, “Oh, Sam!” and spoke of her friend with great emotion. The interview was intercut with 1966 material I had not known existed: footage of a younger Price rehearsing Cleopatra, also of then-GM Rudolf Bing and director Franco Zeffirelli. The 89-year-old Price sang a couple lines of “Give me my robe,” still with beautiful tone, and this was followed by the singer performing the aria on stage in her glorious prime. The chills were more than worth the price of admission. Even someone who loves Dvorák’s opera as much as I do found it difficult to get back into the plot of Rusalka.

The Rusalka HD will repeat in participating theaters on Wednesday, March 1; variation is at local discretion. One remaining performance of the Zimmerman Rusalka is scheduled at the Met the following night, Thursday, March 2.

Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

  • On the whole, it is fitful, shallow work, seeming neither deeply felt nor strongly guided, a typical result when a competent director from another branch of theater tries opera. We have been here before at the Peter Gelb Met, too often.

    This says it all, doesn’t it? Well done, Porgy.


    Mary Zimmerman is somewhere wondering where all these invisible pin pricks are coming from? This is superb writing. Balanced and supremely knowledgeable with just a hint of the arched eyebrow. I was distressed listening to Owens yesterday and hope it’s just a bad patch. Opolais I think just over sings and it’s wearing out an instrument that wasn’t entirely attractive to begin with. Barton will still be singing at everyone’s funeral. I look forward to the Antony documentary. Thanks for the heads up. Great job!

  • Lohenfal

    I saw this in the house yesterday, and you captured all the salient points about the production, casting, and conductor. I imagine the Lucite water bucket came across more clearly in the HD than from my seat, but it was all too visible nonetheless. Well, this Vodnik just seemed to land in the palace without the benefit of a lake or river, as he did in the Schenk version, so it isn’t surprising he would be dehydrated. This detail should be deleted from the production, if it ever is revived.

    Also, although I agree that Opolais sang fairly well and was capable in her characterization, I couldn’t help missing Ms. Fleming, and I’ve never been a great Renée fan. A fairly ordinary voice can do only so much compared with an exceptional one, especially in a role that’s primarily lyrical.

  • Ivy Lin

    Great review Porgy. I wasn;t able to see this in the house nor in HD but will probably download this when it shows up in vk (the world’s greatest source for Met HD’s, FYI). But you vividly described what I’ve experienced with Ms. Opolais’s voice — that this is a voice that simply can’t bloom with the music.

    • Bill

      The last performance of Rusalka at the Met was not
      substantially better than the first or third performances which I attended save that the horns in the orchestra did not bobble as they had at the premiere. Elder’s conducting was still drab and draggy. Opolais did not sing particularly splendidly though she did have some attractive notes -- she seems to be an actress who sticks to her routine -- not particularly spontaneous for almost every movement was identical to her previously seen performances. If anything Eric Owens was in shabbier voice than earlier -- somehow vocally he does not bring out the pathos of the Water Goblin and his voice is unsteady. I do not understand Owen’s reputation as a superior bass. Jovanovich is also still inconsistent vocally though ardent dramatically -- while singing softly he can emit absolutely beautiful tones -- when pushing and on high (though he certainly has the high notes) there is a bleatyness which is less attractive. Dalayman is way past her prime -- the middle voice is intact, the higher notes, while loud, are inconsistent with edgy sound and an ear piercing top -- she is imperious dramatically. Jamie Barton is the one consistent singer vocally -- she has fun with the role and the voice has heft with deep chest tones --
      I did not distinguish any difference in her performance from night to night and it was the fullest singing of the principal roles throughout. The water sprites and the Hunter had the loveliest voices of the evening. I did not care for the voice of the kitchen boy at all. The house last night was almost full with more people standing than I have seen at any performances at the Met this season (though by the second act most of the standees had found empty seats on the fringes of the Parterre. Applause was warm but not long lasting with not a great deal for Owens or Dalayman. Many patrons departed after the second act and the performance started late as hundreds of people were still waiting in line at the box office to pick up their tickets at 7:30, the announced starting time. And yet. Rusalka remains a beautiful opera which one can savor again and again despite the cardboard-like sets of this production.

      • aulus agerius

        I, too, am mystified by Eric Owen’s rep as a bass. I’ve seen him a couple of times in recent years and both times he seemed to have a lot of difficulty moving about on stage -- and one was the concert performance of Mefistofele at CH. The other was King Phillip in Philly. Both times he was rather meh as a singer imo. Does he still ride on the 10-yrs-ago Grendel?

      • Camille

        Oh Bill, thanks. My reply went elsewhere. Mr. Owens is a nice guy and a good musician but he has problems vocally and it does seem this situation has been ongoing for some time now. Also, not an actor, at all.

        Dalayman is now singing a lot of mezzo roles in her home theatre in Sweden and the Foreign Princess is clearly no mezzo part.

        There just was not sufficient motivation for me to fork out the big bucks for, much as I like Barton’s excellent voice and singing, I just don’t go there for a Jezibaba. Sorry.

  • Camille

    Well, actually

    It was of interest to me as I have been engaged in an internal debate as to whether to go to the repetition HD or the last live performance, and this final nail into poor, poor little Rusalka’s watery grave was just what I needed to help me to decide which course to take.

    So, actually, it was exciting!

    And Porgy —- it may be a “lonely tardy beat”, but think of the recompenses!!!!!! Popcorn among them.

  • zelgo

    I would give ANYTHING to see that excerpted interview with Leontyne Price!!!

  • Ivy Lin

    Well thanks to the wonders of uh, certain Russian websites I’ve now seen the whole Rusalka HD. I actually was impressed with Opolais, Owens, and Jovanovich and how much they resisted turning the performance into the kind of cartoonish, Disney-fied, trivial tale that seemed to have been Zimmerman’s vision. I thought Opolais, Owens and Jovanovich all sang and acted with a great deal of sincerity and integrity. All of them have/had some vocal limitations, but I thought their interpretations lifted the production into something less silly than it might have been.

  • Batty Masetto

    Another Rusalka response:

    Yes, Jamie stole the show for me too, in spite of the brief episode of EVIL WITCH mugging in the third act. Otherwise she was sheer delight all around. In the context of the full performance with the visuals etc. I didn’t hear any vocal messiness from her, and she belted out the occasional chest tone to exuberant effect.

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get the condescension to Jovanovich. Yes, it’s not a Three Tenors sound, but it’s attractive and always very musical. He’s physically and emotionally present, a detailed actor, and for Pete’s sake, he can sing a lovely pianissimo while kneeling and supporting the weight of a soprano. He’s got the vocal and mental resources to handle a complete Meistersinger without tiring (he was excellent here). I’ve seen him live several times now and he has never disappointed.

    Opolais, on the other hand… I’ve wanted so much to give her a chance. She’s got so much to work with. But it never comes together. She was in better shape vocally today than for Manon Lescaut. But. Chopped vocal lines, little shaping of the phrase musically.

    She apparently thinks of herself as some kind of actress, and to give her her due, she never merely flings herself around the stage in the style of one N.M. Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. On the other hand, the latter pulls her tricks partly because she’s lost all vocal presence whatsoever, and I dread to think what Kristina will do when her vocalism dries up.

    There’s no specificity to the text or the acting moment. All the acting is as flat and generalized as can be – Intense Looks and God How I’m Suffering – and pretty pallid unless she’s got a Big Dramatic Move. No real sense of yearning at all in the Song to the Moon, no projection of why this crazy watery Thing would want to go through so much just to be human in the first place. I could go on but others have done it for me.

    I saw Fleming years ago in the Schneider-Siemssen sets (which I think were a modified version of the old Met production) in SF. The vocalism was better than Opolais, but left me just as cold. Neither one felt like the character to me.

    This production had its ups and downs by comparison to the older one. The set for the first scene was just awkward, and her dress was both hideous and a dramatic embarrassment. The less said about how Owens handled the Vodnik, the better. I know now for sure that he’s no actor. Yet the sprites and their choreography were delightful, and I say this as one for whom lacy panties hold no charms. The Jezibaba scene was funny-scary and on the nose. And I thought having Rusalka emerge into a flowery meadow was a lovely idea (even though she flubbed the acting).

    I also liked the staging of the second act reasonably well. The choreography was dramatically apposite, though less would have been a whole lot more, especially during the Vodnik’s aria. Having her bring him a bucket of water was a nice touch. Dalayman’s costume (though she sang well) was another disaster. The attempt to merge an off-the-shoulder version of eighteenth century fashion with a traditional Slavic sarafan left her wearing the visual equivalent of fat bra straps. Yet Jovanovich’s costumes for both Acts I and II were very nice, and his attendants in Act I were downright spiffy. (And all costuming gaffes paled beside the sheer galloping horror of Zeffirelli’s getups for Antony & Cleopatra in the film clip. Lovely to see Mme. Price still in such good form at age 90 though.)

    Act III set again didn’t work for me. I get the idea; execution weak, I thought. I was moved by the Prince’s death, but Opolais’s handling of the end – really of the whole scene – was a great big anticlimax.

    I initially thought Elder’s conducting was sluggish, but the overall effect worked quite well. And I found the interview engaging.

    So for me, not a disaster, but a very mixed bag in dealing with a very beautiful work.

    (Revised slightly from what I originally posted Saturday but it went desaparecido.)

    • jackoh

      “The vocalism was better than Opolais, but left me just as cold. Neither one felt like the character to me.”

      But isn’t the character, in her essence, supposed to be “cold.” She would like to be “hot” to humans, but that is denied to her by virtue of who she is. And in her interactions with humans she will be viewed as cold by them. Remember, she is a creature of the cool waters and the cool time of day. Hot passion, in this libretto, is a province of the humans, not the water nymphs. Perhaps humans apprehending her are meant to be left feeling somewhat cold.

      • Batty Masetto

        There’s something in theater called the mimetic fallacy. The characters in “Waiting for Godot” are bored out of their minds, but if they bore the audience nobody will come back for Act II. Their boredom can’t be boring to the audience.

        Likewise, if you wind up feeling cold about Rusalka as a character, the whole point of the work is lost. And she’s not that cold anyway – some kind of passion has moved her to take a terrible risk, go through misery as a human, and then choose a horrible eternity of semi-existence rather than deliberately harm the man she loves (however she understands that emotion).

        • Ivy Lin

          Hi Batty,
          My favorite Renee video of Rusalka is in the Robert Carsen production. Not going to post the link but the whole thing can be found on YT in fairly good picture quality. The 2002 Paris performance has her emotionally engaged and it’s a very beautiful, moving performance.

          • Talk of the Town

            The Herheim production is FASCINATING if you already know the opera.

  • Camille

    The more I hear about this Rusalka, the less now I want to go, and on top of that, on the laundromat TV monitor this a.m., in between Kelly Live! and Court TV, suddenly there was the Vodnik—then Rusalka—then JamieBaBa(WTF????), in its entire Disneyesque Diorama of De-lite=full=ness. If I only didn’t love that music…. BEDA!

    • Porgy Amor

      Ah, yes. I love it too. I spent most of my December (the operatic portion) with performance after performance of it for the long piece that was to run with the new production, and just as with a similar Elektra project last year, it never made me sick of the opera. In fact, I kept finding more in it, and I’d be eager to see how some episode I knew was coming up would be handled (in musical as well as stage terms).

      I wish I hadn’t found this one such a dud, but I struggled to find good things to say. It sounds as though Batty and Ivy below liked it a little more than I did.

      • Camille

        You do? Yes, I REALLY love the music to this work, it seems to sum up an entire lifetime’s work for Dvorak and perhaps he is partially the Rusalka, as he experienced muteness in a strange new world (probably to some degree, anyway…) when first he was here in NYC. He had such a difficult time of it — being that Bohunk guy in Vienna, and then suddenly, lionized here in NYC and treated like a hero. He’s right there in the subway, for god’s sake, at the NWQ stop at 57th Street, along with Lenny.

        Well, I guess what really bothers me is “The Little Mermaid” cutie-pie aspect that doesn’t appeal to me as I hear such great SEHNSUCHT, such a deep, deep heartfelt unhappiness in so much of the music, that cuteness conflicts with THAT music.

        I still have 24 hours to make my FINAL DECISION.

        Maybe I’ll just put my pennies in the piggybank and head up to Bard for Dimitrij this summer instead?

        • Bill

          Camille -- no go on Thursday to see
          this Rusalka -- not one for the ages but
          who knows when the opera will re-appear in NYC at the Met again. How long has one had to wait for a re-acquaintance with Lohengrin, or Pique Dame or the Bartered Bride? I shall go again on Thursday -- the music itself and the beauty of the score overrides any faulty singing or conducting.

          • Porgy Amor

            Well, my feelings about the new production, aside, I hope the opera is not away for a long time. A better cast and a firmer hand with the orchestra, such as YNS provided last time around, would go a long way.

            Rusalka has returned at regular intervals since 1993. It will be interesting to see if that changes as we get deeper into the post-Fleming era. Anyone have data on how this series has been selling?

            Pikovaya Dama has not been away all that long (2011). Lohengrin‘s return is said to be imminent. No argument on The Bartered Bride. Who knows what happened to those announced plans to rework Wadsworth’s Juilliard production for the big stage. Maybe Levine, who conducted it at Juilliard, was the one who was driving that train. (NYT, 2011: “This is something of a trial run. The creative team will create an expanded version of the production for a future Met season.”)

            • Bill

              Porgy -- it seems that all of the Rusalka
              performances at the Met have been
              planned for a special soprano star.
              First for Benackova who was a wonder in the role, then three seasons for Fleming who was very famous at the Met and then for Opolais who was thought probably to be an up and coming big star when this revival of Rusalka was planned. I doubt there would be a revival now a few years hence specically for Opolais. Others sing it of course Stoyanova, Bezsmertna and Nylund in Vienna but Stoyanova is not that frequently at the Met and is much in demand everywhere else, Nylund not at all at the Met and Bezsmertna sticks to Vienna, and as great as she is, is totally unknown elsewhere and as effective as they all are in the role, they would not draw in a crowd at the Met as Fleming has. Netrebko could of course sing the role and probably be splendid as Rusalka but it is in Czech, not Russian, and other than Elsa she has sung very little even in German but some Strauss songs and Kalman even though she votes in Austria. So for whom would the Met revive the opera?

              There appears to be more seats sold for Rusalka than for the recent Puritanis or Rigolettos but Carmen seems to be selling best as it probably would no matter who was singing. .

            • Camille

              In fact, as I just checked, they’ve just NOW sold out the Varis Rush Ticket for tonight’s I Puritani, but until about a half hour ago, they were available.

              At after 2:00 pm, that is not what one would call a “hot” ticket — those are gone by 12:01 p.m.

            • Cameron Kelsall

              I think the days when rush tickets were gone by a few minutes after noon are mostly gone. With the rare exception of a super hot new production, I’ve been able to get rush tickets are late as 4:00 or 5:00 some days.

            • Camille

              Yes, I have been noticing that, However, certain things, like Tristan und Isolde were gone quickly, but when I was looking for a Tannhäuser ticket at 3:00pm last season, it was still available. The Rusalka was available on opening night as well as other nights, as I considered it. It’s not a good situation for the Met and I am worried.

            • Cameron Kelsall

              when I was looking for a Tannhäuser ticket at 3:00pm last season, it was still available.

              I can’t say that surprises me. A midweek Tannhauser is probably a rough sell to anyone who has to get up for work the next morning. (So, too, perhaps, is Rusalka, at nearly 4 hours with an 8pm curtain). The Tristan definitely was the most difficult ticket of the fall, but I had no trouble grabbing a rush seat for Guillaume Tell (another long sit for a weeknight) late in the day.

            • Bill

              Cameron -- after Botha received rave reviews for Tannhaeuser last season it began to sell better. And who knew he would never be around again at the Met. (a new CD on Orfeo
              has just been released with live extracts of
              Botha performances of Wagner and Strauss in Vienna including Meistersinger, Tannhaeuser, Parsifal, Lohengrin and others plus Daphne, Frau and Ariadne (with Isokoski,Thielemann ) and hopefully the Met shop picks it up. I remember when the Tannhaeuser production was new at the Met with Levine, Rysanek, Bumbry, McCacken and 100 people would be standing outside the Met for each performance clamoring to obtain tickets for the sold out performances.

            • Bill

              Camille -- from what I have seen this season,
              Tristan had the fullest houses at the Met. But it had not been done for some time in NYC, and possessed a world famous conductor and
              certainly one of the best Isoldes currently and a very viable Tristan so the level of performance was quite high.

              By the way I understand Vienna has decided to push back its scheduled Samson(Garanca-Alagna) for the 2017-18 season until the following season and present a new “Les Troyens” instead in the fall of 2017. Maybe with Garanca but who knows --

            • Porgy Amor

              Bookkeeping: Fleming actually sang four Met series of this (’97, ’04, ’09, ’14).

              The place to put Trebs in this, as she sounds today, would be the Foreign Princess, if she’d bother. She’d probably have fun chewing up the scenery in that, but it’s such a short role. The title role might have worked well at some earlier point, but I think she’s past that. Anyway, based on things she’s said about other roles, I doubt Rusalka would ever have appealed much. Mostly mute and pained-looking for an act and a third? I cannot see it.

              It isn’t inconceivable that one of the Met’s other emerging stars could take Rusalka up, e.g., Yoncheva, Pérez. There’s also Martinez, who has had success in it elsewhere, as has El-Khoury. I do think of it as an ensemble opera with great opportunities for several voice types, rather than a diva vehicle, and it’s better known and loved in New York, certainly, than it was in the time of Benackova. So we’ll see.

            • Bill

              Porgy -- I stand corrected -- I saw Fleming each time she sang Rusalka at the Met and
              consider it one of her best roles (the finest I thought was Carlyle Floyd’s Susanna.

              And you are correct that all of the main roles are important -- the Prince is an exquisite
              tenor role which many good tenors have essayed. Netrebko as the foreign princess is a luxury casting which would never happen. She is too much in demand. Most of the many Foreign Princesses I have seen are
              sopranos past their prime -- however the first was Eva Randova who doubled the role with the Jezibaba and was excellent as both

              Yoncheva of course would be a prime
              candidate but now with her rising popularity in substantial roles such as Violetta,
              Norma etc. she must be very much in
              demand worldwide for these roles and
              Rusalka, for example, may not ever figure into her repertoire. It is certainly an opera which now has, however, found favor all over Europe. In my early days it was hardly ever played except in Czech-Slovak lands and occasionally at the Volksoper circa 1965 or in Germany. But I am very partial to the operas of Dvorak and Smetana so am always happy to encounter them on stage.


          • Camille

            Vielen Dank, Wilhelm Meister!!

            “not one for the ages but who knows when the opera will re-appear in NYC at the Met again.”

            Jawohl, I guess that’s the point you make which I just can’t refuse.

            Oh, by the way!!!! Sehr wichtig!!!! The Philadelphia Orchestra will be giving “Bluebeard’s Castle” next week (Tuesday, I think) at Carnegie!!! I can’t WAIT!!!!!!
            Michelle De Young and John Rely will be the spousal pair, and our future Music Director will be in control. A great evening, HOPEFULLY!!

            • Cameron Kelsall

              I’m seeing the Bluebeard’s Castle in Philly on Thursday. Can’t say I’m in love with either singer, but it’s a favorite work I try to hear whenever possible, and I’m interesting to hear Yannick’s take on it. It will be his first opera performances in Philly since he was announced as MD designate. The Bartok is being paired with selections from Swan Lake.

            • Camille

              Oh good. Give us a heads up on it.

              Yes, Michelle De Young doesn’t get a lot of love around here —yet she is a fine singer. This opera is a bit of a specialty for her so you are in capable hands. Relyea, in my experience, is variable, and I haven’t heard him in a long time now, so…. the orchestra is the star of this work though, and I am very curious to see what Néz-Ség will do with the opportunity. It’s not Wagner but it is intense and loud and quirky and weird.

              I don’t get the pairing with Swan Lake--oh yeah--enchantment and duplicity. Okay, got it.
              Can’t wait!

            • Cameron Kelsall

              I’ve heard DeYoung many times. A capable artist, no doubt, but somewhat bland.

            • Camille

              Well, actually

              I cannot actually disagree with that as I remember walking out on her before Dido died. Just couldn’t take it any more. Since that momentous event I’ve heard her numerous times and she is always pleasant, but I’m hoping for more, and more expressivity,
              I’m sorry to say. . I like the voice very much though. Let’s hope for the best, from both of them and may Néz-Ség light a fire under them. I really love this work and missed it at the MET last time so am holding my breath.

        • rapt

          I’d second Bill’s urging. I only saw the HD, but I thought the choreography of Act II really helped (what seemed to me) the weakish libretto. (That third act seemed a particularly problematic piece of dramaturgy, which the director didn’t solve.) Apart from Barton (beautiful), the singing was at least adequate to my not-too-sophisticated ear; but I agree with Ivy that the performers did bring out the emotional complexity of the piece.

          • Camille

            Thank you, that is something, I guess, but I really don’t care much for the dancing in this work, it’s actually where I take a small nap until the action heats up again. But = I’ll take what I can get.

            • rapt

              I understand, and you have my permission to sleep through (or at least, especially given your Disney feelings, close your eyes during) the dances in acts 1 and 3 (I found myself wishing that the one in act 3 had been omitted)--but the act 2 dances, including one in shadows during the Rusalka/Vodnik duet, actually served, I thought, a helpful dramatic purpose.

            • Camille

              Thanks for granting your permission, haha!

              Actually, I have been over nosing around in Porgy Amor’s RusalkaThon and learned something important--Dvorak loved Eugene Onegin So much, that’s where the idea of that polonaise ( which bothers me) comes from. Now I know that, I can put it to a side and just dismiss the whole weirdness of it.

              So, I’m good, thanks! I may not even take my granny nap.

            • Bill

              Camille -- I think Dvorak also wrote
              other Polonaises as well -- The Polonaise is still utilized as a dance in the openings of many Balls in Vienna and Central Euriope and it is logical that at the opening of a formal dance in some Prince’s home that a
              Polonaise be utilized. In the original Schenk production of the Rusalka he did in Vienna
              (well in reality the original was in Munich
              with Behrens) the Polonaise was danced exactly as that with the dancers coming down the steps quite formally as at a grand opening of a Ball. . At the Met production the choreography was quite different and it was more of a flirtatious dance with hankies or scarves waving. The use of the Polonaise in Rusalka in part reflects the two different worlds, one of water sprites blithely prancing around and magic, one of the rigid formality of life in a princely castle, a life alien to the previous life of Rusalka. I find the Polonaise in that scene quite apt (and
              also gorgeous music) formal music but which lightens the impending doom and the sorrowful music for a short spell. .

            • Batty Masetto

              Camille, in this production, for once, the polonaise makes dramatic sense, much in the way Bill mentions. There’s a bit too much of it but I thought it works. Count me in too as one for whom the dances in Acts I and III can tend to drag, but the dancers and choreography are engaging this time and for once the trio of singers are able to participate pretty creditably in all the movement. Too bad Owens is so awkward, because he does break up the flow.

            • La Cieca

              Honestly I don’t think the Polonaise makes a lick of sense in the Met production. We are in what seems to be a public room in the palace, apparently an anteroom to a larger public space like a banquet hall. The dancers arrive and perform an elaborate choreographed suite of dances.

              So who are these people? Party guests? Then why would they deliberately taunt their host’s fiancee? A hired dance troupe? Why would they be going through their paces for no audience except Rusalka, who is doing her best to ignore them?

              Yes, I get that the dance is deliberately slutty looking and therefore its dramatic purpose is to show that Rusalka is uncomfortable with the idea of having sex with a human. That’s a gloss on the text but I guess it’s not inconsistent. My issue though is that in general the opera was presented in a literal way, and so the dance I think needs to have some grounding in that literal reality. It doesn’t, in my opinion. It looks like a divertissement.

            • rapt

              I see your point, La C. Coherence was, one might say, not a strong point of the production. There seemed to be throughout a mixture of literal and metaphorical (I don’t know in which category to classify the water bucket in Act 2). But I myself was willing to bump along from moment to moment.

            • Batty Masetto

              Well, Cieca, about that polonaise – and I know this thread is now older than Mary Zimmermann, but for the past 3 days I’ve been on a computer I couldn’t log in from – I have to say that for all its many design faults, I never took the production as particularly “literal.” The first scene put paid to any possibility of that for me.

              Trying to articulate the experience in retrospect, I guess I’d say I read each set as an abstraction of both a place and an emotional state, the kind of thing that commonly appears in dreams. Certainly I never read the second act set as a literal room in a literal palace; what self-respecting eighteenth-century anteroom would have had exactly zero furniture, not even andirons in the fireplace, and just a weird antler sculpture instead? And how could a downpour happen in the hallway just outside the door of any conventional room? But that kind of thing happens all the time in dreams, and in a dream people can dance a polonaise in a boiler room if they want to. The heightened grotesquerie of the dancers’ makeup fell in along the same lines for me.

              In that context, the polonaise played out for me as a balletic enactment not just of licentiousness, but of Rusalka’s whole experience of social exclusion: a bunch of sleazy sophisticates mocking the bumpkin on every count. There was a bit too much of it and in some ways it went over the top, but it made sense that it would continue under the Vodnik’s aria too. It’s just Life at Court.

            • Camille

              Thanks, but to cut this short =======

              Simply, the music sounds STONATO to me. It may be representative of the “Foreign Princess” and all haute monde stuff, but more likely it seems that Dvorak is simply imitating his hero Tschaikovsky’s far more successful Polonaises, because he liked them and found an excuse to include one in, and that’s all.

              For me the music is a fail in what it purports to express, and further, drags me out of my little woodlands watery reverie by which I’ve been so charmed, and very abruptly. Even if that is what is happening to poor little Rusalka, this is not music representative of her and her difficult and fatal pathway from and back to the pond.

              I don’t care what Mary Zimmerman puts on the stage. It will still sound wrong or better, false to me. It’s just my particular and personal musical taste and really has nothing to do with any production whatsoever. In fact, the Herheim production, now I come to think of it, probably makes better sense of this extraneous dance treating it as a free-for-all, out of bounds with the actual storyline.

              If I score a ticket tomorrow I’ll see, but as I am a survivor of Disneyland childhood, growing up in its shadow, I am really allergic to these kinds of effects.

              Must go hear Maestro Nelsons conduct Eroica and am hoping for a great performance as I don’t crawl out of the old pond often for that piece.

              Ciao 4 now!

          • Porgy Amor

            I thought the choreography of Act II really helped (what seemed to me) the weakish libretto. (That third act seemed a particularly problematic piece of dramaturgy, which the director didn’t solve.)

            I agree that the work presents some third-act problems for a director. The Gamekeeper/Turnspit and Wood Nymphs’ scenes in the middle of that act can seem extraneous in all but the best productions. But the more time I spent with it, the more I thought that Kvapil’s libretto is as beautiful as the score. Admittedly, some of the effect is lost in translation, but Kvapil’s words were sensitive and poetic. He believed in this piece, and it was a wonderful outcome for us that the composers he initially approached to set it were too busy, and that eventually he was led to Dvo?ák.

            • rapt

              Thanks for your note, Porgy. Despite what I said about the dramaturgy, I did think there were many memorable lines--above all, for me, Jezibaba’s definitions in Act 3 of what makes humans human. And the complex portrayal of the characters has to be credited to the librettist, too. Though I thought the construction of the drama could do with a few good whacks, the librettist did have a good grasp on the characters, which really is the more important thing--I left quite haunted, actually.

    • Lohenfal

      I’ve been seeing the Met commercials more and more often on the “regular” TV channels. Today, it was one for Traviata. Could that also be selling poorly?

      I hesitate to recommend the Rusalka this time around. The singing was at least adequate but not quite enough for a piece which, for all its musical beauty, is somewhat slow-moving, with only a few really dramatic moments. The 2009 performance I saw with Fleming/Antonenko/Blythe/Goerke had much more to offer, with Belohlavek adding considerable authenticity in the pit. Porgy called it a “dud.” I would be somewhat more charitable, but I generally am nowadays where the Met is concerned. At least the audience on Saturday seemed to receive it well at the end.

    • Camille

      Not going to hear final repetition of Rusalka tonight as the Varis Rush Tickets were sold out in less than two minutes and am simply unwilling to spend more on this, a production that I don’t know I’d like, and a protagonist whose singing I don’t admire. Next time, if that ever happens in my lifetime.

      That’s the end of this mermaid’s tail for me.

  • Camille

    Just a word in passing about Rusalka’s hair — since I’ve noticed several men talking about the strange color effect — WELL, actually

    It’s a trend amongst the younger set (35 and below) these days, to use very vivid colored ombré effects on the ends of their hairdos. A few years back it was mainly just a lightened shade of your own color but in the last year or so, I’m noticing more and more of these Halloween-ish-type colors for effect in the drugstore and in fashion magazines. Like the green, the dark blue and iridescent black lipstick trends which have been turning up increasingly.

    So—I found her dreadlocks with the ombré in acqua to really be pretty cool, as it were, and up to date with what a lot of young girls are now doing to express themselves in coloring their hair. I mean, I used to get that effect for FREE when I was a young girl swimming in chlorine laden Southern California swimming pools. Our hair was always turning green on the ends, and we were just earthbound teenagers, too, not iridescent water sprites, nor rusalky.

    It’s all good, as the saying goes.

    • Talk of the Town

      Actually, I found that Rusalka’s hairstyle reminded me of nothing so much as “Totally Hair Barbie”, who made her debut in 1994. I thought the ombre was fine (I liked that the blues and greens were hacked off when she became human) but the crimping was dated/tacky.

      I also couldn’t get over how physically uncomfortable both Owens and Opolais looked in that first scene. Opolais kept trying to cover up her feet (with little success) and looked about to fall out of the tree. Owens looked like he’d been beamed down from a foreign planet and had no idea what he was doing there. Perhaps that was the direction -- after all, Rusalka longs to be human, and it probably IS very precarious for a water nymph to perch in a tree -- but she just looked like a soprano who was worried she was about to sprain an ankle. Very distracting.

      • Camille

        Yes indeed—TOTALLY!

        Barbie must have served as muse to this production’s hair stylist. Mermaid hair comes in and out though—that excessively crinkly stuff IS a little old hat, however, and more usually as “beachy waves”.

  • Camille

    And finally, I would like to say to Egregio Signor Porgy Amor:

    Thanks for your exhaustive investigative reporting on the subject of our water bound nymph. I have slogged through both parts now and shall return again to reconsider aspects once more.

    This is a very useful and helpful guide, the considerable pains taken, along with the time to consider things and your equananimous adjudications of the subject are all appreciable and appreciated.

    This opera means a very great deal to me as it was a complete blind date which I encountered with no pre-knowledge, excepting Zinka’s pretty good excerpt of the “Song to the Moon”, in October 1990. It was such a discovery back then, that I did everything I could to proselytize it, having portions of it on my outgoing message machine (remember those?) Many persons calling me would excitedly say “Camillllllllllllllle!!! What’s THAT? It’s BEE-YOU-TI-FULL!!”, and I would let them know, happy so many had found it to be as beautiful as I felt it was. To the end of her life, my mother always cried, as if on cue, every time I played the Song to the Moon. One time I asked her why. She shook her head and said “I just don’t know. It seems like all the pain of love lost in the world.”

    • Luvtennis

      My first exposure was via Price’s recording of the big aria -- which I loved -- and then the Benackova studio. It has remained a touchstone ever since.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Encouraged by your review, Porgy, I went to see the HD repeat last night. It’s such a different experience than live in the Met. Super close-ups made the sprites less charming and the ordinary bits that make up a costume too obvious, and the stage just came across as a stage littered with random objects, or worse, silly objects. The palace interiors were the only scenes that felt like actual locations.

    Dalayman should have objected strenuously to the costume and makeup that seemed to emphasize that she was either two decades older than the others, or that her face had fallen apart (it does happen to some people earlier than later, but this was successfully disguised in Parsifal). Her rigid costume didn’t help her. One might believe the Prince would marry this Foreign Princess for money and connections, but for any other reason? No way; she’s old enough to be his mother.

    In the last scene I did like very much the demented look Opolais had on her face. She convinced me that she was not a human despite looking like one. By contrast, Fleming was otherworldly in a warm and wistful way. (I don’t even remember enough of Beczala’s take on the Prince to contrast it.)

    While justifiably criticized here for lack of a bracing new vision, this production did offer snatches of something more intimate than the previous one. The camera work was atrocious, though, and did its best to sabotage the forest scenes. I don’t think I’ve seen an HD with so much focus on the stage floor--which ought to be fairly invisible.

  • Camille

    Thanks for the post mortem on last night’s performance. I’ll have to catch it the next time around, for as there is a new productiin one may reasonably expect there to be an iteration in a few years.

    Perhaps they will give Ana María Martínez a shot at it, as she has established her reputation in this role?

    From what you recount, I am glad Varis tix were not available as the entire proceedings would have been far too dismal for me to tolerate right now.