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Unhappily, the libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil was not up to the standards of the music, leaving gaps in the story here and there. Of course, it's also possible that sets and staging would help to fill in some of those gaps with their visual assistance. There was really no staging or sets here, as the singers were on a platform above the slightly-smaller-than-usual orchestra, which was re-arranged into the seating arrangement of the pit in Salzburg.

Between Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney, there can be few among us who do not know the story of The Little Mermaid, who foolishly falls in love with a human Prince. (Why, I wonder, are these Princes always a little -- sometimes a lot! -- on the stupid side?) Unhappily, this one is traditional, not knowing what he wants until he loses it. But then he truly redeems himself. After it's too late, of course. This theme of the woman from a watery world falling in love with a human man exists in nearly every language, and almost always ends unhappily.

n the Dvorák-Kvapil collaboration, after pleading with her father, the Water-Goblin, Rusalka is sent away to seek a magic spell so that she can become human. Even people not familiar with the opera will readily recognize the ravishing Song of the Moon, the lyrical plea by the watery nymph, who only wishes to become human because she's fallen in love with a human Prince. Her father says he cannot perform such magic, and instead tells her to ask the witch Jezibaba (who may be Rusalka's aunt) for help. Yet, he wishes she'd stay as she is.

Part of the witch's spell renders Rusalka mute for nearly half the opera, which is one of the problems caused by the libretto. The Prince, unhappy because of her silence, falls under the charm of a Foreign Princess, who finally gives up on him and sends him back to Rusalka. Of course, by this time (this is opera, remember!) Rusalka has lost faith in love, especially as it is unrequited, and asks to return to her original home -- the water. The witch, Jezibaba, will grant her this wish -- but only if she first kills the prince. Unable to do this in cold blood, Rusalka will still perform this cursed act with her first-ever kiss. However, when the music and the voices are so wonderful, the lesser parts don't seem to matter so much.

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Copyright © 12 June 2008 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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