Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Dvorák's Rusalka

Renée Fleming photo by Ken Howard

The best seats in the house at New York City's famed Metropolitan Opera House set one back $460 per ticket. Or you can pay $12 and watch it in high definition at the Cineplex Odeon Niagara Square Cinemas, 7555 Montrose Road, Niagara Falls - like I did with Rusalka on Sunday.

At the movie theatre, you even have a better view in that the camera performs amazing close-ups of the orchestra and the singers and there is the added bonus of interviews backstage between acts of all of the principals by singer Susan Graham . And you can even watch the incredible mechanics involved between acts as a huge crew of technicians change the massive sets. That alone was a treat.

So what's the story with Rusalka ? It's a fairy tale, but not with a happy ending, and you know there is going to be trouble immediately when the water nymph, Rusalka (Renée Fleming of recent Super Bowl fame - singing the national anthem) announces to the water gnome Vodník ( John Relyea ) that she is in love with a prince. ( Piotr Beczala ) In Greek mythology, gods frequently interact with humans, especially attractive young women, often with tragic results, and even Vodnik, Rusalka's "father" knows that sure disaster lurks ahead even as he suggests she must get help from the witch, Jezibaba ( Dolora Zajick ), as he sinks into both water and despair.

John Relyea as the Water Sprite photo by Ken Howard   Piotr Beczala sings the Prince photo by Ken Howard   Renée Fleming photo by Ken Howard   Renée Fleming and Piotr Beczala photo by Ken Howard

Renée Fleming sings her well-known aria, " Song to the Moon " in Dvorák's first act, while sitting in a tree. Why is a water nymph sitting in a tree? It's a Czech fairy tale, I suppose, and anything can happen. After some hard bargaining, Jezibaba agrees to turn Rusalka into a human, (spoiler alert if you believe in fairy tales) but warns her that if she doesn't find love she will be damned and the man she loves will die. From here on, it's a slippery slope as befits a former water nymph, and the fickle prince dies with one last watery kiss.

The Niagara cinema was packed for this opera which was a surprise because it's not one of the more well known operas. Unfortunately, for such a simple plot, this production was far too long at 3 hrs. 45 min plus interviews plus plugs for future operas.

Fleming's acting comes to the fore in Act II when rendered mute by the witch. Piotr Beczala picks up the challenge and shows great range. In fact, the singing by all of the principals and the secondary characters such as Emily McGee as the rival princess was first rate along with Dolora Zajick as Jezibaba, but unlike Onegin, at the end, there is no reoccurring melody idling in your brain for hours and days afterwards.

Vibrant maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin from the Philadelphia Orchestra was on the podium and in total control of a terrific orchestra. The costumes designed by Sylvia Strahammer were fantastic; John Relyea in green body paint simply wonderful; and the nobility wrapped in elegant refinery. Unfortunately, there was little choreography for Carmen de Lavallade , a shame with her incredible talent. Günther Schneider-Siemssen was the set designer, whose best work was the castle scene in Act II, but I found his sets a bit too dark and drab. Gil Wechsler's lighting task was tricky with the ever-present water, but he managed to pull it off.

The next opera is Prince Igor , an appropriate follow up to the Sochi Olympics in Russia. Arrive early for tickets. The place fills up fast!

Renée Fleming and Dolora Zajick photo by Ken Howard

Renee Fleming and Piotr Beczala!, Rusalka

Pronunciations Before the Broadcast: Will & Margaret prepare for RUSALKA

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