United Kingdom Garsington Opera 2022  – Dvořák, Rusalka: Soloists, Philharmonia Orchestra / Douglas Boyd (conductor). Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 1.7.2022. (CP)
Director – Jack Furness
Designer – Tom Piper
Lighting designer – Malcolm Rippeth
Choreography/Movement director – Fleur Darkin
Rusalka – Elin Pritchard
Prince – Gerard Schneider
Vodník – Musa Ngqungwana
Ježibaba – Christine Rice
Foreign Princess – Sky Ingram
Lovec – Mark Nathan
Hajný – John Findon
Kutchtík – Grace Durham
Wood nymphs – Marlena Devoe, Heather Lowe, Stephanie Wake-Edwards
Garsington Opera’s Rusalka is one of the big successes of this 2022 summer opera season, the one event not to be missed. At very short notice, Welsh soprano, Elin Pritchard, season cover for the highly regarded Natalya Romaniw, stepped into her Welsh colleague’s leading role. Pritchard looked overwhelmed by the warmth of the reception she received at the end of a very impressive first, of what may well be five performances if her colleague fails to return. Her effort was recognised by one cast member who wrapped a comforting arm around her as she escorted her backstage, firstly to dry off – there is much walking in a few inches of water during the last act – and to celebrate. Opportunities like this happen infrequently, Elin Pritchard’s break will certainly confirm her as the name to follow with Welsh National Opera in their upcoming autumn tour of La bohème.
Dvořák’s music is full of influences of Classical forms; many experts say he shows a leaning towards Wagner and Liszt, but he did develop his own unmistakably individual style with the inclusion of many folk elements. Conductor Douglas Boyd is well supported in the pit and calls on harpist Heidi Krutzen at crucial moments, not least for the arrival of Rusalka, a water nymph, to the most imaginative of sets. Designer Tom Piper’s very clever cantilever structure is centre stage, creating the lake where Vodník the water spirit exists. The lake is surrounded on three sides by a steel structure of walkways, very reminiscent of those wonderful Victorian swimming baths which have now all but disappeared from our communities.
It is quite a moment as Gerard Schneider (Prince) is first to walk the cantilever as it rises to reveal the water in which he had been spotted swimming recently by Rusalka. She longs for a human form and human soul in order to win the love of the young prince. Singing the role of the water spirit, Musa Ngqungwana – the South African bass-baritone who is fresh from recent successes in the United States – delivers clear projection and an intimate manner as he warns Rusalka of the danger of pursuing her wishes. As her ‘water goblin daddy’ he fails to dissuade her, and Rusalka turns to Ježibaba, a witch, but not before she sings the very moving and touching ‘O silver moon’. Christine Rice, singing from a large skull which becomes her home, delivers a most appropriate and suitably frightening depiction of a wretched witch in casting the spell which will be Rusalka’s undoing. Stunning horn playing, matched by enthusiastic trombone contributions, showed the Philharmonia Orchestra to be in excellent shape as the prince escorts Rusalka, bathed in pleasing sunshine, to his palace much to the dismay of Rusalka’s wood nymph colleagues.
Full marks to Designer Tom Piper for the clever involvement of the very athletic aerialists and acrobats in both of the first two acts, making full use of the vast Garsington stage with many ropes put to good use early in Act II to hang the stags and fawns in the palace kitchen in preparation for the wedding feast. John Findon (Hajný) and Grace Durham (Kutchtík) enjoy a short cameo during the preparation of the food, both fearful of the witchcraft which seems to be bedevilling Rusalka. A failed attempt to consummate the marriage heralds an extremely unhappy time for Rusalka with several reminders of how her ensnaring by those attempting to encourage her to leave her natural world will cause her endless unhappiness. An intervention by the feisty Sky Ingram as the Foreign Princess adds to Rusalka’s difficulties, hastening her decision to take refuge in the lake again as the act ends. Lighting director Malcolm Rippeth creates most exciting lighting plots in which his several greens merge unobtrusively to flood the woodland and lake scenes.
There can be no doubting Garsington’s casting team’s excellent success with this production. Having such a fine cover for Romaniw, finding a very competent tenor in Gerard Schneider and producing a terrifying witch (Christine Rice) who were all supported by a dedicated and extremely capable chorus. They combined to make this a very watchable and always creatively inspiring production. The wood nymphs (Marlena Devoe, Heather Lowe and Stephanie Wake-Edwards) merit mention for their play and splendid singing.
In a most moving conclusion to Act III, Rusalka must renounce her prince and human love. Pritchard is comfortable depicting the agony of her confusing principles, whilst the nymphs tease the water spirit. Finally, the prince seeks the kiss which brings his death. Sensational floodlighting accompanies Rusalka away from further controversy. What a finish, the warmth of the applause well merited.
1 thought on “Elin Pritchard grabs her opportunity to shine as Rusalka in Garsington’s big success”
Saw this last night as part of the Edinburgh Festival…stunning performances all round, orchestra, singers, stage set, lighting, acrobatics, and an overwhelmingly moving finale.
Thanks to everyone involved for one of the finest opera experiences of my life!!