Next weekend Resonance Works will provide the ultra-rare opportunity of hearing Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka – an enchanting opera not only new to Pittsburgh, but to be sung in its original Czech language (with English supertitles). To date, only the opera’s famous “Song to the Moon” (“Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém”) has been heard most on concert stages here, as far back as January 21, 1916, when the renowned Metropolitan Opera soprano, Emmy Destinn, included it on her Carnegie Music Hall program, and as recently as September 16, 2010, when the equally famous Renée Fleming sang it with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall. Both sopranos recorded the aria, but the first named prima donna, a native of Prague, sang when the recording industry was taking its first, primitive steps, while the second named, Indiana, PA native can be heard in all of her full, stereophonic glory.
Ms. Fleming for a time made the title role of the three-act opera particularly her own, singing it rather frequently and recording it in its entirety as well. While Rusalka is by far one of the most successful of Czech operas, after its Prague premiere in 1901, it was rarely heard outside of Czech-speaking countries. It wasn’t heard in London until 1959, and the American premiere didn’t take place until 1975, when it was staged by San Diego Opera. It didn’t reach the Metropolitan Opera until a Vienna production was performed there in 1993, with Gabriela Beňačková in the title role. In more recent years, the melodious, wonderfully orchestrated work has enjoyed somewhat of a “revival,” in this country and abroad, being heard worldwide more often than all of Dvořák’s other operas combined.
The plot is derived from Slavic mythology, and begins with three “Wood-Sprites” (or Nymphs) teasing Rusalka’s father, a Water-Gnome who rules a lake (shades of the Rhine Maidens tormenting cunning little Alberich in the opening scene of Wagner’s Das Rheingold). Rusalka, a Water-Nymph, tells her father she has fallen in love with a human Prince who hunts near the lake, and that she longs to become human and be with him. He disapproves, but just the same recommends a witch (Ježibaba) who might be able to help her. Rusalka drinks the witch’s potion, despite being warned that, once she becomes human, she will lose her voice – much like a well-known “Little Mermaid.” Worse still, if she cannot make the Prince love her, he will die and she will be eternally damned. Rusalka manages to capture the Prince’s affections, but, thanks largely to a jealous Foreign Princess and a few other operatic complications, there is to be no “happily ever after.” Librettist Jaroslav Kvapil based his story on fairy tales by Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová.
In Resonance Works’ production, the chemistry between Rusalka and the Prince should be quite interesting, in that soprano Rachele Schmiege and tenor Stefan Barner are in “real life” a married couple. The pair recently spoke of the opera’s production and more in a brief but charming video available on YouTube. Mezzo-soprano Laurel Semerdjian, well remembered for her excellent work with Pittsburgh Opera, will be welcomed back as Ježibaba. Vodník, the Water-Gnome, will be sung by bass-baritone Michael Scarcelle. Natalie Polito will take the role of the Foreign Princess; Benjamin Robinson (always a treat), the Gamekeeper; Joanna Latini, the Kitchen Boy; Rebecca Shorstein, Erin Schmura, and Zanna Fredland, the Wood Nymphs, and Joel Goodloe, the Hunter. Andrew Nienaber will direct, and Maria Sensi Sellner will conduct the Resonance Chamber Orchestra.
Rusalka will receive only two performances – Friday evening, May 11, and a Sunday matinee on May 13 (Mother’s Day), at the Charity Randall Theatre (located in the Stephen Foster Memorial, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Oakland). So treat Mom – and yourselves – to the opportunity of hearing the local premiere of this exquisite opera. It’s loaded with beautiful music for the voices and orchestra, and Resonance Works has demonstrated on past occasions that they are a company well worth patronage.
For tickets and more, visit Resonance Works.
Photography by Alisa Innocenti