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Rusalka's father, the Merman, was strongly played by Clive Bayley; never a figure of fun, he was striking looking and rather fearsome (and not a little vain), certainly rather unapproachable. The Wood Nymphs were played by three dancers and three singers (Joanne Thome, Anna Grevelius and Karina Lucas). Lucy Burge's clever choreography meant that singers and dancers combined into one uniform group and formed a strong visual basis for both Acts 1 and 3 of the opera.
Having French soprano Anne-Sophie Duprels as Rusalka was not an obvious piece of casting. Duprels is best known in the UK for her Italian and French bel canto (she did Thaïs at Grange Park last year and is singing Manon at Scottish Opera in 2009). Hers is not an excessively large voice and I don't think that Rusalka will be a part she will sing much in bigger houses, but in the smaller confines of Grange Park with the English Chamber Orchestra in the pit, Duprels won many hearts with her depiction of the love-lorn water nymph. It helps that Duprels is physically tiny so that she was believable as an inhuman sprite. Even during Act 2, when she took on human form, Duprels conveyed the aura of someone unworldly, simply by looks, size and body language alone; for, of course, this is an opera in which the heroine does not sing for most of the middle act.
It says much for Duprels' stage presence, and McDonald's direction, that we barely missed her singing in Act 2, she still created a strong stage presence. But when she did sing, it was lovely. Duprels has quite a strong vibrato, but allied to a naturally warm voice with a strong lyrical core. The result meant that she shaped Dvorák's lines beautifully and imbued the water-nymph with a degree of warmth. It was Rusalka's Act 1 hymn to the moon which everyone was waiting for, and Duprels sang it captivatingly, but Dvorák gives Rusalka many other lyrical moments and Duprels took perfect advantage of these.
Copyright © 25 June 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK