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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Rusalka

Renée Fleming returns to the water as a love-struck mermaid.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Fathoms below: Renée Fleming in the title role of Rusalka.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera.
The return of soprano Renée Fleming is always anticipated at the Metropolitan Opera. And here, she returns t the role that has become one of her signatures in the last 15 years: the title character in this revival of Antonin Dvořák's Rusalka.

Although this year's Metropolitan Opera schedule forgoes the operas of Richard Wagner, fans of that composer's late Romantic style should flock to Rusalka. Also, this is one of the last Otto Schenck-Gunther Schneider-Siemssen productions remaining in the Metropolitan Opera repertory.

Antonín Dvořák is one of the greatest Czech composers, but he is known in the U.S. for his symphonies and string quartets. An exploration of his operatic repertory is worth the time of any opera lover. Rusalka shares chromatic melodies, extended arias and sugar-sweet orchestration with Wagner's "middle period" operas with a dollop of folksy lyricism that marks the music as distinctly Dvořák.

In addition to Ms. Fleming, this revival of Otto Schenck's gorgeous (and thoroughly, painstakingly picturesque) production features bass John Relyea as the Water Goblin, Dolora Zajick as Jezibaba and tenor Piotr Beczala as the Prince who falls head-over-flippers for the title character. All ends tragically, but Dvořák's music is absolutely divine. With the brilliant young Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium, this should be a revival to remember.

Rusalka opens Jan. 23. A Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for Feb. 8.

Recording Recommendations:
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Sir Charles Mackerras Decca, 1998
Rusalka: Renée Fleming
Prince: Ben Heppner
Jezibaba: Eva Urbanova
Water Goblin: Franz Hawlata
Sir Charles Mackerras was brilliant in Czech repertory. On this, the first major-label recording of Dvorak's most popular opera, he has an international cast led by Ms. Fleming captured in her absolute prime. Also, if you want to hear why opera lovers used to be excited about Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner, this is one of his better recordings.
Tickets for Rusalka are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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