Dvorák's 'Rusalka' in Rome
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
A few weeks ago (on 17 November 2014) I reported on the deep troubles of Rome's Opera House, named Teatro dell'Opera di Roma Capitale: huge financial debt and deficit, major restructuring requested by various levels of Government to provide further assistance, objections to the plan by some unions (especially those of the chorus and orchestra), the stern position taken by the new management (namely mass firing of chorus and orchestra), and Riccardo Muti calling it quits (at least from the two operas he was expected to conduct in the 2014-15 season, Aida and Le Nozze di Figaro). Many observers thought that Italy's capital city was in for a long diet without opera performances from the major house.
After five weeks of around-the-clock negotiations, the 2014-15 seasons was inaugurated on 27 November with a rarely staged opera: Antonín Dvořák's Rusalka. In short, the unions agreed to the industrial plan proposed by the management, the loss of some perks (and the suspension of others for as long as the financial situation continues to be worrisome). The artistic direction replaced Aida with Rusalka; a series of performances of Aida are scheduled for April and May with Donato Renzetti conducting.
I was in the audience on 27 November 2014. After three hours and forty five minutes (including two intermissions) of performance, the audience erupted in fifteen minutes of accolades and ovations to the opera, the interpreters, the orchestra, the chorus, and to the news that Rome's Opera House will continue to run.
Even though Rusalka has had only five productions in Italy — the first was in 1994 in a Rome staging imported from English National Opera — the dramatic fairy tale about the nymph in love with a handsome prince is familiar fare in the United Kingdom, the United States and Central and Eastern Europe. It lends itself to colossal staging and special effects: forests, lakes, palaces, dancing parties and witch hunts. Denis Krief (author of dramaturgy, stage direction, sets, costumes and lighting) had to make do with a budget of merely 50,000 euros. Of course, he opted for a single set, contemporary clothes and props mostly selected from the Teatro dell'Opera's warehouse. He placed a lot of emphasis on credible singers and on their acting. The performance was engrossing.
He shared the excellent outcome with young Norwegian conductor Eivind Gullberg Jensen and with the cast. Gullberg Jensen knows this complex score very well. On a late romantic base, there are influences of Richard Wagner and of the 'Russian school', as well as vivid National colors. Gullberg Jensen rendered the meditative and sensual quality of the work very well, and the blend between lyric and symphonic styles. He was especially good at avoiding covering the tenor, Maksim Aksenov, who, in the first act, saved his volume to make it resound in the strenuous third act. Svetla Vassileva took the title role. Her lyricism was exquisite in the arias and the duets. Her rival (for the prince's love) was Michelle Breedt, with a Wagnerian-type pitch contrasting with the delicate beauty of the protagonist. The prince has an impervious part: he must be young, slender and attractive and yet have the texture of a heldentenor. Maksim Aksenov was quite skillful in handling the character. Finally, two jewels: Larissa Diadkova as the funny witch and Steven Humes, as Vodník, the water spirit, who attempts, unsuccessfully, to convince Rusalka not to become a human being and hence to avoid a tragic end.
This was a good and promising start to the renewal of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma Capitale.
Copyright © 4 December 2014 Giuseppe Pennisi,