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Antonin Dvořák’s Rusalka was first performed by theCanadian Opera Company in 2009, well over 100 years after its premiere inPrague. Yes, I know the COC was not around in 1901 but it was a heck of a wait.Ten years later it is back with a new staging by David McVicar and that makesfor some lost time. The Met was not much better. It did not get around toproducing it until 1993.

Rusalka needs a damngood Rusalka and the COC has one of the best. To put it in perspective, NewYork has Renee Fleming, Moscow has Anna Netrebko, Bucharest has Angela Gheorghiuand Toronto has Sondra Radvanovsky. (Yes, I know she was born in Illinois butnow she is ours.)

Rusalka is a water nymph or mermaid, if you prefer, who falls in lovewith a mortal who happens to be a Prince. He falls in love with her too butthere are some major obstacles to the union of a mortal with a mermaid. Thefirst obstacle is her father Vodnik who is a water gnome and says NO inCzechoslovakian. The promise of love, a soul and eternal life in the hereafter,impel Rusalka to seek the help of the witch Jezibaba. She can help Rusalkaswitch to mortal but she will lose her voice, and if the Prince betrays her, hemust die and she will be damned forever.

Radvanovsky dominates the performance with vocal splendour and superb acting.Rusalka goes from pleading for transformation, to the joy of love, to therebuff by her lover, to the pangs of unrequited love, to the torment ofexclusion by her family and her final tragic end. Radvanovsky handles all theseconvulsive changes with aplomb and at the end gets a well-deserved standingovation.

Bass Stefan Kocan has a big, resonant voice and he sings a marvelousVodnik. Tenor Pavel Cernoch has a fine voice with a splendid midrange but it isnot a big one. To be fair he did mange some flourishes and the orchestra neverdrowned him out. We could always hear him but he may have suffered incomparison to the more domineering voices of Radvanovsky and soprano KeriAlkema who sang the part of the Foreign Princess. The latter had good reason toexpress herself as the would-be bride who did not like the Prince’s infatuationwith Rusalka. Mezzo soprano Elena Manistina does a fine job as the colourfulwitch Jezibaba.

David McVicar does imaginative and superb work with the production. Hedoes not wait for the overture to be over but starts with a minor tale ofrejection. We then see the alluring and very active Wood Nymphs (Anna-SophieNeher, Jamie Groote and Lauren Segal). With judicious use of dances bychorographer Andrew George and the fine cast he is able to maintain a fine paceeven with the orchestral passages where there is no singing.

John Macfarlane’s set consists of the indication of a forest with a moonin the background and a meadow with a lake in the foreground. The lake isindicated by a hole in the floor boards with some mist emanating from it. Nowater on stage.  Simple and effective.The second scene shows the busy kitchen where frantic preparations are made forthe wedding. A huge fireplace and carcasses are in view in a colourful array.The palace in the subsequent scene is a grandgothic hall.

Johannes Debus conducts the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Chorusin Dvořák’s gorgeous, lush score.

This time we had to wait only ten years even if the COC had to borrow a productionfrom the Lyric Opera of Chicago that was first seen there 2014.

By the way, it is worth mentioning that the COC’s production in 2009 waspretty speedy compared to what the redoubtable Royal Opera, Covent Garden did.It staged the opera for a first time in 2012 and set it in a brothel. You canstill hear the boos.


Rusalka by AntoninDvořák with text byJaroslav Kvapil is beingperformed seven times until October 26, 2019 on various dates at the FourSeasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto,Ontario. Tel:  416-363-6671.

October 25, 2019

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