United Kingdom Dvořák, Rusalka: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Glyndebourne Tour 2012 / Leo McFall (conductor), Theatre Royal, Plymouth, UK, 14.11.2012 (PRB)
First Wood Nymph: Evgeniya Sotnikova
Second Wood Nymph: Michaela Kapustová
Third Wood Nymph: Alessandra Volpe
Vodnic, a water sprite: Mischa Schelomianski
Rusalka: Wioletta Chodowicz
Ježibaba, a witch: Anne Mason
Hunter: John Mackenzie-Lavansch
Prince: Ladislav Elgr
Gamekeeper: Gareth Huw John
Kitchen Girl: Eliana Pretorian
Foreign Princess: Tatiana Pavlovskaya
Conductor: Leo McFall
Director: Melly Still
Designer: Rae Smith
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable
Movement Director: Rick Nodine
Revival Movement Director: Christian From
Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra: Leader Richard Malone
Glyndebourne Chorus: Chorus Master Jeremy Bines
Living in the South West of England can have some advantages, but in terms of opera and music theatre, it’s the touring companies which offer most, if not all, of the provision, and certainly at the top professional level. Plymouth is however lucky to have the fine Theatre Royal, a venue of some 1300 seats which has been described by Arts Council England as “the largest and best-attended regional producing theatre in the UK and the leading promoter of theatre in the South West”.
Each year it hosts a tour visit from Glyndebourne, and Welsh National Opera, the former usually in the late autumn, the latter in the spring. This normally involves three productions from each company annually, though it can occasionally display a distinct lack of communication between these two companies, when popular operas like Le nozze di Figaro are given within some seven months of each other’s production.
However, during each tour there is often a little gem, and Glyndebourne certainly picked a winner with a one-off performance of Dvořák’s aptly-designated lyric fairy tale, Rusalka. The composer might be better known for his New World Symphony but his charming take on The Little Mermaid – albeit in its more harrowing original form – is full of gorgeous music, imbued throughout with the unmistakable thumbprint of the Czech composer.
Melly Still’s production is eye-catching: atmospheric sets replete with extravagant mermaid costumes with long swishing tails, manipulated with striking realism by a team of puppeteers clad in black who rarely intrude, even if the multiple copies of the witch, given their almost pantomime-dame form, and the three wood nymphs do seem to clutter up Rae Smith’s effective set, itself enhanced by Paule Constable’s highly-imaginative lighting.
But this was really all about the singing, and the largely Eastern-European cast definitely didn’t disappoint in this respect. Wioletta Chodowicz’s Rusalka was superb overall, even though she was forced to begin singing her famous act one aria lying on her back, hardly conducive to ideal vocal control and tuning – possibly something which a better-established ‘big name’ would have eschewed, whatever the perceived needs to satisfy the dramatic moment. Ladislav Egr as the Prince was in fine voice, combining Italian lyricism with sheer dynamic potency, and exhibited an especially secure high register which took him above top C on one occasion.
Misha Schelomianski as Vodnik, sung well too – full of menace when called for, yet capable of compassion in the more tender moments with his daughter, Rusalka. This somewhat compensated for his rather unedifying costume, especially his disposable priapism, which scored as few dramatic ‘brownie points’ as the equally incongruous spat of simulated intercourse early on in the second act.
Anne Mason portrayed a suitably spiteful witch, Ježibaba, with vocal resources to match, while icy-blond Tatiana Pavlovskaya was suitably voluptuous as Rusalka’s nemesis, the Foreign Princess.
Eliana Pretorian brought some humour to the role of the Kitchen, while Gareth Huw John made a convincing Gamekeeper, standing in for the late Robert Poulton, who was tragically killed in a car crash only a few days before the tour reached Plymouth.
Leo McFall’s musical direction, the fine orchestra, chorus and dancers all combined to make this one of Glyndebourne’s most enjoyable offerings, and one which certainly deserves to be performed more often.
Philip R Buttall