Based on a fairytale by Karel Jaromír Erben reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué’sUndine, Dvořák’s second-to-last opera Rusalka tells the story of an impossible love between the water nymph Rusalka and a young Prince.
Anyone who knows anything about classical music knows Dvořák’s legendary symphonic works (above all his New World Symphony). Less known are the Czech composer’s ten operas, with the most internationally successful among them being Rusalka. The three-act opera began life as a stand-alone libretto written by Czech author and poet Jaroslav Kvapil. When shown the libretto by the director of the Prague National Theater—an institution at that time seeking to develop Czech national identity under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire— Dvořák was immediately enthusiastic, and set about composing a work whose folkloric ambience and use of the Czech language have made it a Czech national treasure.
Conductor Adam Fisher and stage director Stefan Herheim’s striking and wide-acclaimed 2012 production presented this 'lyrical fairytale' at Belgium’s La Monnaie Opera House. Here the work’s fairy tale elements are transformed into a psychoanalytical study of male fantasies and female archetypes, starring Greek soprano Myrto Papatanasiu as Rusalka and Pavel Cernoch as a handsomely lyrical Prince.
The stubborn Rusalka asks the sorceress Ježibaba to help her win the heart of a young Prince who she has often seen bathing in her lake’s waters. The sorceress accepts, but with one condition: the nymph will lose her voice and, if rejected, she will never be able to return to her watery homeland and her love will die. At first, the Prince brings the unusual creature home with him, and prepares to marry her, but soon shows himself to be unfaithful, and their happiness and their lives unravel...