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For some reason McDonald chose to keep Rusalka away from the initial part of the ball scene/dinner party. Instead we saw the guests behaving in outrageous and erotic manner, sex was very definitely on the menu at this court; something which reinforced the Prince's complaint about Rusalka's lack of passion. Janis Kelly's foreign Princess was a ruthless, manipulative bitch, who was very much at home in this atmosphere, and delighted in taking the Prince from Rusalka.

During the first part of the dinner party we saw Rusalka dressing and bathing. It was whilst in her bath that her father, the Merman, first appeared to chide her and encourage her. When she finally appeared, late, at the dinner party the guests made fun of her, finally entangling her in her own wedding veil. The troubling images of fish being butchered and Rusalka being entangled in nets were constant in McDonald's view of the opera; he managed to create an unsettling and troubling atmosphere throughout the act.

In Act 3 we were back at the lake-side; Dvorák takes his time bringing the opera to its logical conclusion. But by the end it was heartbreaking as Duprels' fragile Rusalka kissed her Prince one last time and cradled him as he died.

In the pit the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Stephen Barlow seemed to enjoy the lyrical opportunities that Dvorák gives his orchestra. This is an opera in which the orchestra plays a strong role. One or two slightly raw phrases suggested the players had not quite got the score under their skins, but overall the results were stylish and enchanting. I would not have associated Barlow with Czech opera but he obviously enjoys and understands Dvorák's complex fairy tale.

This was one of the most satisfying operas that I have seen on the Grange Park Opera stage, combining a stylish modern take on the fairy-tale with a sophisticated musical performance.

Copyright © 25 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK




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