Rusalka, Glyndebourne, Sussex
L'Amour de loin, Coliseum, London

Dvorak's tale of forbidden fruit in the forest is impressively sung and bewitchingly staged

Carved from the cautionary tales of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué and Hans Christian Andersen, and written in the year Freud published On the Interpretation of Dreams, Rusalka is, by a whisker, a 20th-century opera.

Debussy had been sweating over Pelléas et Mélisande for almost seven years before Dvorak took up his pen in 1900, completing his score in a matter of months. But it never enjoyed the kudos of Pelléas. Dvorak's opera is as much about the mute beauty of the moon, the scent of pine resin and the coolness of a fresh-water pool on a warm summer night as it is about stifled sexuality or the violence of a transformation that splits a lovelorn water-nymph from tail to heart, silencing her voice. Perhaps 20th-century ears could not process a work that is deeply, if unintentionally, Freudian, benign in its Wagnerisms, melodically enchanting, sorrowful, innocent.

In her (and Dvorak's) Glyndebourne debut, director Melly Still attempts to resolve what were once seen as the multiple contradictions in Rusalka. Lit by Paule Constable, Rae Smith's smoothly curving set of teal and mustard tree trunks surrounds a dry lake with masked dancers who propel and cradle the pale sprite Rusalka (Ana Maria Martinez) and her toad-like father, Vodnik (Mischa Schelomianski), and shelter the doe that the Prince (Brandon Jovanovich) obsessively pursues. Cardigans straining over their breasts, pleated skirts in perpetual rebellion, the frenzied wood nymphs are Balthus adolescents: sticking their tongues out and grasping their bosoms. Rusalka's watery sisters are suspended from wires as though in formaldehyde, specimens in a pathologist's jar, their bleached tails twitching in warning. Larissa Diadkova's Jezibaba is a cartoonishly inflated babushka, shadowed by a male chorus in identical headscarves and aprons, while the vile parade of visiting dignitaries and royalty turn the kitchen table into a 1980s catwalk for the garrulous Act II Polonaise.

It's a busy, over-populated production, less cohesive in conception or execution than Antony McDonald's Grange Park Opera Rusalka of 2008, and though the choreographed evisceration of wild cats, owls, foxes and snakes in Jezibaba's spell is amusing, the brutality of Rusalka's transformation is underplayed. This director is good with comedy and good with tragedy but insecure in moving from one to the other. Despite that, individual characterisations are strong. When Martinez sings that "to suffer is to feel alive" in her lustrous, vibrant voice (an intoxicating composite of Slavic darkness and Latin brilliance), you believe her.

Though saddled with a role that demands heroism and lyricism while typifying male stupidity, Jovanovich exudes charisma, while Schelomianski and Diadkova are shatteringly good. Alasdair Elliott is an excellent Gamekeeper, Tatiana Pavlovskaya a terrifying Foreign Princess, and Natasha Jouhl, Barbara Senator and Elodie Méchain harmonise the wood nymphs' trios cleanly and characterfully. Then there's the London Philharmonic Orchestra, all subtle horns and radiant strings. If those of us who came to opera long after David Pountney's 1983 ENO production find it hard to imagine a time when Rusalka was not accepted as one of the greatest operas, Jiri Belohlavek clearly remembers the years when it was denigrated as an exotic oddity and conducts as though calmly dissecting the long decades of prejudice. How desperately cruel and coarse high society – which Dvorak himself loathed – sounds in Act II, and how beautiful and terrible the forest is in Acts I and III. Every trembling leaf, every gleam of moonlight is caught, every painful step of the slow progression to release.

So from the gleam and quiver of a Bohemian forest to the pregnant glitter of the Mediterranean, which separates the 12th-century poet Jaufré Rudel (Roderick Williams) from Countess Clémence of Tripoli (Joan Rodgers) in Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's near-static study of courtly love, L'amour de loin (2000). Saariaho's phosphorescent tuned percussion, glazed electronica, flickering woodwind, measured choral antiphons and gently melismatic medieval love-songs need no decoration, yet Daniele Finzi Pasca's English National Opera production offered little else. Where Sariaaho is still, which is often, Finzi Pasca is active: raising and lowering Jean Rabasse's exquisite Moorish screens and gilding a rather severe lily with acrobats, shadow puppeteers, video projections, aerialists, continuous lighting changes and acres of billowing silk. Clever orchestration, meticulous support from Edward Gardner and the orchestra and excellent diction from Williams and mezzo Faith Sherman (as the androgynous Pilgrim who leads Jaufré to his love and his death) ensured that every word of Amin Maalouf's libretto was audible. But the role of Clémence, like that of Simone in La passion de Simone (from 2006), is so carefully and lovingly tailored to the girlish curves of a Dawn Upshaw or Jessica Rivera that Rodgers's delicate sound was squeezed.

'Rusalka' (01273 813813) to 28 Aug

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

    The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

    They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
    A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

    Dropout generation failed by colleges

    £800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
    Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

    Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
    Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

    Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch