Rusalka by Scottish Opera is simply a magical performance of a story (Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil) based firmly in the old tales of water and forest spirits, witches and spells, set wonderfully to music by Antonin Dvorak.
Rusalka is one of those rare occasions where everything – story, music, performers, costumes, set and lighting design and visuals all just fit perfectly into place to take the audience right into the magical world of Rusalka, a water nymph who falls so much in love with a human Prince who swims in her waters that she wants to obtain human form and be with him. Rusalka confides her longing to her father Vodnik the Merman/Water Goblin who warns her of the dangers but still advises her to seek out the help of Jezibaba the Witch to realise her dreams. Jezibaba agrees to give Rusalka human form but there are conditions and a terrible price to pay if things do not go as Rusalka dreams.
The role of Rusalka is wonderfully brought to life on stage by Anne Sophie Duprels who, as well as having an outstanding soprano voice, is also a great stage actress, and that ability to show emotion without speaking is crucial in this story as part of the price demanded by the witch Jezibaba for Rusalka’s transformation is that she cannot be heard by humans. A potentially mute lead role for an opera may sound a very odd concept, but it works beautifully in this story.
Playing the part of Rusalka’s father Vodnik with commanding presence and authority (and of course outstanding vocal) is Sir Willard White and it was a real pleasure to watch a performer who has graced so many of the operatic world’s great stages to be performing here in Edinburgh tonight.
Leah-Marian Jones as Jezibaba is a great witch both vocally and performance wise and seems to be having some real fun with this role. Witches must be a great part for any performer to play.
Peter Wedd as the Prince gives an amazing performance and as well as the vocal skills also has the stage performance skills to portray to an audience a man losing his mind over Rusalka and willing to pay whatever price is needed to be with her.
Strong perfomances throughout too by Julian Hubbard (Gamekeeper), Natalya Romaniw (Foreign Princess) and Clare Presland (Kitchen Boy).
This production of Rusalka also has dancers, and that merging of both artistic worlds just works so well.
Rusalka is for me pretty much the perfect production – wonderful story and music (conducted by Stuart Stratford) with great direction and design (Antony McDonald), atmospheric lighting (Wolfgang Goebbel) and great costume design (associate designer Gabrielle Dalton) .
The only puzzle to me is why such a wonderful piece of work has been performed so rarely Scotland. These performances by Scottish Opera are only the second ever in Scotland and the first since 1964. The 1964 performances were when “The Opera of The National Theatre, Prague” performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1964 and brought Rusalka to the stage of The King’s Theatre as part of five operas that they were performing. Also nice is the fact that The Festival Theatre for tonight’s performance and The King’s Theatre for the 1964 performance are now part of Edinburgh Theatres as combined performance venues, so after an absence of more than 50 years Rusalka was coming home to Edinburgh. Let’s hope it a far shorter time than 50 years before we see Rusalka performed on stage in Scotland again.
Review by Tom King