15 July 2009

Rusalka at Glyndebourne

My second visit to Glyndebourne this year was for the opening night of the new production of Dvorak's Rusalka.

The day started, as usual, with choosing a place for the picnic and clearing away the travel weariness with some champagne.

The weather promised to be good so we chose a spot on the lawn, rather than in the opera house where we had gone on our previous visit.

Our guests this time were Glyndebourne first-timers who chose Rusalka because, as Czechs, they were familiar with it and knew that they liked it. They also had the advantage of knowing some people involved in the production so it was a chance to catch-up with friends too.

Being a Sunday, the opera started early (everything has to finish in time for the last train back to London) but we still had some time for drinks, a snack and a wander through the gardens before heading to the opera house for Act 1.

A welcome short break between Acts 1 and 2 gave just enough time to stretch legs and enjoy an obligatory glass of Pimms. The long dinner interval came between Acts 2 and 3. We took this at an even more leisurely pace tan usual and took advantage of the early start, the good weather and the long day to return to the picnic after the opera for a coffee before heading home after the initial rush from the car park.

I was really looking forward to Rusalka for various reasons. One of these was that this was the opera debut for director Melly Still who directed the magnificent Coram Boy that I saw at the National Theatre a couple of years ago.

Act 1 impressed mightily. We had water nymphs in mid-air waiving their very long tails and shadowy figures manipulating the actors on stage to simulate moving through water. We even had a happy ending to the act when Rusalka becomes human to be with the man she loves.

Act 2 disappointed. This is where the real drama happens but it was all rather unconvincing. The prince suddenly pursues a former girlfriend on the day of his wedding to Rusalka. Nothing in the acting or the production suggested that this was remotely realistic behaviour, even for an opera.

Once the Prince has screwed things up with Rusalka you know there is not going to be a happy ending and on that tragic note you go and try to enjoy your dinner.

Act 3 was magnificent almost entirely due to the emotive singing of Ana María Martínez as Rusalka. The staging also improved two with the lake seen in Act 1 transformed from a welcoming blue to a threatening black.

The ending proves to be almost positive after what has gone before (the Prince dies and Rusalka is condemned forever) and the opera ends in a triumph of emotion and singing. The loud foot stomping from the audience was inevitable after that.

Rusalka was good but probably only average by Glyndebourne standards (they are very high standards) and I was a little surprised to see some newspapers give it five stars, the relatively weak Act 2 made it less than perfect.

While I would probably not go back and see Rusalka again, I was one of the people enthusiastically stomping my feet at the end and I left the opera a very happy bunny.

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