THE WINTER OF OUR RUSALKA
nol.hu Miklós Fáy
Dvořák: Rusalka. The Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Palace of Arts
A whole generation of opera lovers possibly grew up without meeting Rusalka. The last time this piece was played was in a guest performance in Pest. And not for twenty years before that. Considering this is one of Dvořák’s most popular operas and Dvořák is not a mysterious or unknown composer, this eschewal is quite incomprehensible. Or maybe not, as revealed by this season, during which we even had two opportunities to see the opera. First, the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcast of a good, solid performance directed by Otto Schenk could be watched worldwide, but one thing was not quite clear, namely why the water nymph sang on the top of a tree, while at the end of the season the Festival Orchestra played the piece conducted by Iván Fischer and featuring native singers on three occasions without any direction or a tree.
The importance of native singers became evident when I acted as a usual music lover and listened to the greatest hit of the opera to find out how the different singers sing, who is the best, Renée Fleming or Anna Netrebko: soon it turned out that neither was. Gabriela Benacková is already one class higher, simply because she does not sing music, but lyrics, her performance is not about the beautiful melody that can be composed to this interesting tongue-twister, instead the stresses of the lyrics subtly rearrange the musical accents, making the aria more vivid.
This holds true for the whole performance too, you can imagine a more even singing performance than that of veteran Peter Mikuláš, who probably started rather carefully in order to avoid any possible mistake at the end of this lengthy piece, but even this voice disappearing every now and then between the parts was interesting, varied and friendly. Of course, it is risky to compare a broadcast with a live performance, but from a musical perspective I think the Metropolitan was beaten, the orchestra’s part was more dynamic and wholehearted in the story, the two major singers, Pavla Vykopalová and Jolana Fogasová contributed to the concert-like performance in different ways, but with the same intensity.
Fogasová had a more fascinating task, because two roles were assigned to her, in the first and third movement she was the witch Ježibaba, while she played the seductive princess between the two. The mezzosoprano separated the two roles by wearing two different costumes, and even her gestures indicated two types of characters, one fairy-tale witch and one fairy-tale evil seductress, who walks all over the little frail and speechless woman heartlessly. The latter was played by Pavla Vykopalová almost without gestures or mimicry, and this is Rusalka’s role, she has to confront us with the cruelty of humanity.
A nice and logical outcome would be if Sleeping Beauty was awoken from her sleep, and more than one hundred and ten years after the premiere Rusalka finally became part of Hungarian music culture, while companies were competing to perform it or other operas by Dvořák. The applause and its reception suggest the opposite. Rusalka is a long, sometimes erratic piece; despite its beauty it lacks a hypnotic power, which makes “The Rhine Gold” used as a sample the firm gold standard. It leaves fragments, beautiful ones, such as the harp solos or the special timbre of the trombone at the end. It is a pleasure that now we know at least when “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém” is sung at the opera house. But we can also live without Rusalka. If we are foolish princes and evil princesses.