Review: Rusalka

Scottish Opera
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 5th April
3 Stars (3 / 5)

A Fishy Tale for the Tragic Romantascist.

In Antonin Dvorak’s operatic fable of boy meets nymph, the eponymous Rusalka (Anne Sophie Duprels) is a mermaid who falls head over fins with a handsome prince (Peter Wedd) who comes bathing regularly in the beautiful lake where she, her father, and sisters reside.

She longs to become human so that she and the amphibious swain can get married. This she does with the help of the seemingly obliging witch Jezibaba (Leah-Marian Jones) who hacks of her tailfins in the makeover. So far so horrendous. Everything will go swimmingly so long as the prince never cheats on her. If he does it will spell doom for both of them.

This familiar tale is more Brothers Grimm or Tim Burton than Walt Disney. Director and Designer Antony McDonald’s set – visually arresting though minimal – helps to convey the saturnine aspect.

There’s a challenge for Duprels is to sing her pièce de résistance, Song to the Moon, as one of the conditions placed on her character’s mortality is to be struck dumb for the greater part of the ensuing drama. It’s no mean feat for a soprano to keep your attention while not being able to sing, but she carries it off with aplomb and the rendition of the lunar aria is sublime.

Tenor, Peter Wedd, faces an even greater challenge – which he fails to overcome. You can’t fault his singing, and his finale against Duprels is a tour de force, but he just doesn’t look the part. It’s hard to imagine Rusalka falling so hopelessly and helplessly in love with this fellow that she’s prepared to risk so much. One can’t help having Joe Jackson’s “Is she really going out with him?” disconcertingly in one’s head while trying to appreciate the orchestra. Then again, tis often the case with pulchritudinous sirens and princely alpha dimwits. Not just in opera.

Star turn comes in the hulking form of Sir Willard White as Rusalka’s father Vodnik. A Wagnerian bass baritone who brings such gravitas to the proceedings his performance is worth the price of admission alone.