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Traditional or Radical?

Dvorák's 'Rusalka' at Grange Park Opera,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


For the majority of people attending the première of Grange Park Opera's new production of Dvorák's Rusalka on Sunday 22 July 2008, I suspect that the only production of the opera that they would have seen before was David Pountney's production for English National Opera. Pountney's production has been the only staging of the opera in London in my opera going lifetime. Pountney staged the work in a Victorian nursery and re-interprets the story of an adolescent girl falling in love. If this is the only production people have seen, then what is traditional and what is radical?

For many of us watching director/designer Anthony McDonald's production, having Rusalka (Anne-Sopie Duprels) depicted as a mermaid was nothing short of radical. Not that McDonald gave us a cute, easy-going fairy-tale depiction. His forest was a dark, black and white thing, the lake a stark circle in the landscape, the only bright colour was the red of the hair of Rusalka and her brethren. This was fairy-tale seen through unsettling modern eyes. The result, whilst undoubtedly modern also had something of the atmosphere of early 19th century Romanticism, where beauty and exoticism can hide dark doings and danger.

Rusalka and her sisters were all kitted out with blue tails confining their legs so that these mermaids most definitely could not walk. This meant that the Wood Nymphs' taunting of the Merman was made all the more pointed as they flashed their knickers at him and danced over the waves, knowing he couldn't pursue them.

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Copyright © 25 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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