Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka has been a gem in Czech culture since it first debuted in Prague in 1901. Now in recent times, opera houses all over the world have formulated their visual interpretations of the mythical tale, with Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production taking the audience on a flawless journey into a story of tragic love.
For opera beginners, Rusalka would be the perfect start into the depths of this art form, as it follows a story very similar to that of the classic tale The Little Mermaid. As most of us know, this is the story of a water nymph that fell in love with a prince and exchanged her voice to walk amongst the mortal and be with her love. Whereas The Little Mermaid ends with a cliché “happily ever after” ending, Rusalka ends on a depressing note.
Ana Maria Martinez excelled as the naïve water nymph, Rusalka. Her performance reflected elegance and grace, as well as an advanced vocal range that impressed everyone in the room. “She’s amazing! Seriously, an entire aria laying down?!” a distinguished gentlemen behind me exclaimed after ACT 1. Eric Owens entertained thoroughly as Vodnik, the water goblin, providing both comedic relief and touching moments throughout this production. One of my favorite performances of the night was actually a collection of performances from the water nymphs, (Lauren Snouffer, J’Nai Bridges and Cynthia Hanna) who’s cunning and humorous performances really captured the standard demeanor of a mythical nymph.
Although Eric Owens provided some comedic element, most of the echoing laughs within the walls of Lyric Opera were a result of mezzo-soprano, Jill Grove, who delighted the audience as the sharp-tongued witch, Ježibaba. Brandon Jovanich, also provided a notable performance as the confused Prince.
The visuals of Lyric’s rendition of Rusalka are what truly blows this production out of the ethereal water. Designed by John Macfarlane, the set entraps the audience within Rusalka’s tumultuous journey. Beginning with a gothic forest complete with a hypnotizing illuminate full moon, the set transformed into a grotesque medieval kitchen area in the beginning of Act 2. Large hanging pig carcasses and an oven spewing fire made for a theatrical staging that added even more character to the gossip between the Gamekeeper (played by Philip Horst) and the Kitchen Boy (played by Daniela Mack).
ACT 2 also explored the interior of the castle, which also went above and beyond the call of duty with its eye popping aesthetics, including rows and rows of mounted deer heads. Act 3 ended back at the forest, but this time with more emphasis on the watery details, further accentuating Rusalka’s plight as a deadly seductress.
Lyric’s execution of Rusalka was more of a journey for the eyes, rather than the heart, but the last ten minutes made up for the emotional absence with a heart-wrenching duet between Rusalka and the Prince.
Rusalka will be running until March 16. Tickets can be purchased on the Lyric Opera of Chicago website.