Toronto – A classic mermaid myth dives to new depths when soprano Sondra Radvanovsky takes on the title role in a spellbinding new production of Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Canadian Opera Company. Water nymph Rusalka lives an idyllic, immortal life until a charming, earth-bound prince changes everything. Desperate to join him on land, she enlists the dark magic of a witch, sacrificing her shimmering voice for a chance at love. But Rusalka soon discovers this prince has a fickle heart – and there’s only one terrible solution to reversing her fate. Rusalka runs for seven performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 12, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 2019.
Canadian-American Sondra Radvanovsky, “one of the great sopranos of the 21st century,” (OperaWire) returns to the COC following her triumphant run in Anna Bolena in 2018. The Toronto Star says that Radvanovsky “at the peak of her powers is something extraordinary to behold” and she is joined in this production by an impressive cast. Cited as “a tenor on the rise” (OperaWire), Czech tenor Pavel Černoch is the Prince who captures Rusalka’s heart. Slovak bass Stefan Kocan has been called “a gifted scene-stealer” by New York Magazine; in a role debut, he takes on the role of Rusalka’s father, Vodnik. Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Manistina last appeared at the COC for 2014’s A Masked Ball and returns to sing the role of Ježibaba, the witch. American soprano Keri Alkema is the Foreign Princess; Alkema is a familiar face to Toronto audiences having brought her “strong stage presence and warm soprano” (The Stage) to several previous COC productions including Anna Bolena (2018), starring opposite Radvanovsky.
Sir David McVicar makes his COC debut at the helm of this gorgeous production. Knighted in 2012 for his services to opera, McVicar has worked with the world’s leading opera houses, including Royal Opera House, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Opera. Scottish set designer John Macfarlane brings Rusalka’s watery realm to life with a rich palette of jewel-tone blues and greens that come alive under a luminescent moon; the moody and, at times, ethereal lighting was created by David Finn. German costume designer Moritz Junge is the creative force behind the cast’s elaborate and whimsical wardrobe and Welsh choreographer Andrew George lends his expert touch to whirling ballet sequences.
Dvořák’s sweeping score is full of nocturnal serenades and includes the beloved “Song to the Moon” aria; COC Music Director Johannes Debus skillfully leads the COC Orchestra through its many intricacies with Price Family Chorus Master Sandra Horst leading the COC Chorus.
Rusalka is sung in Czech and presented by the COC with English SURTITLES™.
If you see anything from the Canadian Opera Company this Fall season, it has to be Rusalka. There is something about Slavic operas that makes my mouth drop open in awe with emotional fatigue. Dvořák’s Rusalka is magical, vulnerable and contemplative. It will move you.
Sondra Radvanovsky as Rusalka is awe inspiring. I felt for her. I wanted to let her know everything was going to be alright. Being a cheer leader for our Rusalka is right where Sondra wants you to be. If you are looking for a Disney version of The Little Mermaid, you won’t get it. The sentiment of love and good tidings is there, but when Pavel Černoch as the Prince enters the scene, you may feel a stir in the audience that something is amiss. Rusalka, is a modern day heroine. She is willing to make sacrifices for love whilst also fighting for what she wants on her terms.
I appreciated the forest scenes that were so beautifully curated by COC’s staging team. I felt like I wanted to sit under the trees and take in the dark ambience of a different kind of fairy tale. Rusalka echoed Hans Christian Andersen but without his fairy tale niceties. The audience is enveloped in a production that weaves in an aria into tree leaves that will hold your stomach tight for the length of the production. Reflect on the old men trees, glorious harvest moon and serene misty waters. We have some dangling relationship threads of our own that need mending.
“Song to the Moon” is the aria of arias which tells the story of Rusalka giving up her voice in return for human form and the love of her Prince. It is epic and gut wrenching. How can we not root for our girl when when we know she has given up a piece of herself for love? Would you do the same? It raises the question – in all her strength and fight, were there any other motives for her besides love? I made a note to dwell on the lyrics when I returned home, “Moon, glowing in the heavens, tell me where my lover is, tell him that I hope he’s dreaming of me”.
Enjoy the delicious sugar plum fairy wardrobe that looks like they were hurt in a thunder storm. Welsh choreographer Andrew George encouraged ballet sequences that were robust, mesmerizing and will encourage you to forget that you are watching an opera. With such an uplifting and sad love story, the dance sequences reminded me of the highs and lows of love. Nothing is ever what it seems.
Rusalka was beautifully articulated and a truly wonderful way to kiss the opera season good bye until the New Year.