Dvorak Rusalka, Royal Opera House
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Tuesday 28 February 2012
It’s on occasions like this
that the star-rating system runs into irreconcilable difficulties. I honestly
cannot remember a time when musical and theatrical values were in such total
The Royal Opera’s long-overdue first staging of Dvorak’s late masterpiece Rusalka is an incomprehensible travesty - hideously designed (Barbara Ehnes and Anja Rabes) and ineptly directed (Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito) with little or no feeling for the deep and abiding sensibilities of a great work. But close your eyes and the inspirational debut of the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin brings Dvorak’s wonderful score off the page with thrilling immediacy motivating players and singers alike to rise above the banalities of the staging. The barrage of boos greeting the production team at their curtain call was no surprise. So the question is: in the four years since the production was unveiled at the Salzburg Festival, was it really not possible for the Royal Opera to disassociate itself?
Try as I may, I cannot see rhyme or reason for the choices Wieler and Morabito made for this piece other than to fly in the face of all that it seeks to engender. They talk in the programme note of their understanding of the two distinct worlds the opera inhabits - the watery underworld of Rusalka and her kind - and the “stiflingly domestic and religiously repressive” world of humanity but Barbara Ehnes sauna-like set encloses (to the point where it cannot effectively be lit) the same environment for both. The raw wood surfaces and a few cursory projections are intended to invoke harmony (or to my eyes disharmony) with nature but for the most part there is this inexplicable disconnect between what we see and what we hear. The vulgarities are manifold, instances of cheap and cheesy upstaging so frequent as to beggar belief (especially during Rusalka’s final act lament), and the Witch Jezibaba (Agnes Zwierko) shares her big scene with a pantomime cat gone AWOL from some tacky regional production of “Dick Whittington”.
But enough. Add four stars for Nézet-Séguin and the ROH Orchestra who work their magic on the glories of Dvorak’s passionate score - all dappled light and lowering Wagnerian shadow - and Camilla Nyland (Rusalka) who finds pathos among the bathos rising to a final scene with her Prince - the absolutely stonking tenor Bryan Hymel, quite the best I’ve ever seen in the role - that would break hearts if they performed it in a car park. They might just as well have done so.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 2 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 3 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
- 4 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
London bus driver allegedly kicks gay couple off for kissing
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage