For some reason the Metropolitan opera decided, in 2014, to give an HD broadcast to Otto Schenk’s 1993 version of Dvorák’s Rusalka with revival direction by Laurie Feldman. This production must have seriously old fashioned even then and actually looks and feels like it was created fifty years before the opera was written. It’s not just the dark, dreary, over detailed Arthur Rackham like sets and costumes or even the the stock acting and the lame choreography. The biggest problem is that it completely ignores that Rusalka is essentially about sex and its pathologies. Does Schenk think that Rusalka wants to hold hands with the Prince at the cinema or take the Foreign Princess to the ball instead of Rusalka? You would think so from this Disneyfied version. Has the man even heard of Freud (let’s be clear Dvorák had)? The result then is stultifyingly dull and actually just rather silly. I’ve seen panto with more psychological depth.
It’s rather a pity as musically it’s quite good. Yannick Nézet-Séguin produces a truly red blooded symphonic sound from the orchestra that belies the milquetoast stage ation. It’s very fine. John Relyea is a robust and imposing Water Gnome. One of his best roles I think. Dolora Zajick, despite being hampered by a ridiculous costume and a crowd of small children dressed as frogs etc is also very sound vocally. Piotr Beczala sounds quite heroic as the Prince. I’m not too sure about the leading ladies though. Maybe Emily Magee could be seductive as the Foreign Princess but here she comes over more like the matron of a girls’ boarding school. And then there’s Renée Fleming in the title role. She’s decorative, accurate and lovely of tone, albeit perhaps a little mature sounding for Rusalka, but passion… forget it. The minor parts are well enough sung but, again, they are all guilty (or the director is) of pointlessly stagey acting.
Technically it’s fine too. Barbara Willis Sweete was the video director and, as usual, I vastly prefer her work to Halvorson’s. It’s a fair presentation of the production and that’s all I want from a video director. Even on DVD the picture is good (there is a Blu-ray version), even in the dark scenes of which there are many. Sound (DTS 5.1 with, curiously, Dolby stereo as an option) is quite resonant but that just helps the conductor’s robust approach. The booklet contains a detailed track listing, a synopsis, a short historical essay and a rather pointless interview with the conductor. The on disc extras are the usual anodyne intermission interviews hosted by Susan Graham. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Korean.
I really can’t recommend this at all. Even as a traditional production it’s lame. If you want Fleming there’s Robert Carsen’s beautiful Paris production which has the advantage of a younger sounding Fleming who also acts better. Carsen always seems to bring out the best in her. For more challengingly Freudian efforts there are Kušej and Herheim. Neither is perfect and both will likely offend traditionalists but they are stimulating.