tue 25/06/2024

Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - sumptuous rendition of a watery fable | reviews, news & interviews

Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - sumptuous rendition of a watery fable

Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - sumptuous rendition of a watery fable

Total triumph for replacement water-nymph Elin Pritchard

Elin Pritchard pulls it off - a first-rate RusalkaJ Shuter for EIF

The last-minute indisposition of your leading lady is enough to give festival directors palpitations, let alone their audiences, now forewarned by the dreaded email thudding into inboxes.

And so it was that Andrew Moore, Head of Music at the Edinburgh International Festival, had to poke his nose through the stage curtain and announce that Natalya Romaniw was unable to sing the title role of Rusalka, which would instead be sung by fellow Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard.

Yet any fears that this would in any way be an inferior substitution were unfounded – Pritchard has covered the role at Garsington Opera and clearly knew the part inside out and backwards She was rewarded by a storm of appreciative applause at a solo curtain call at the end of the opera. 

Mind you, it would never do to have someone wandering around designer Tom Piper’s wonderful set without a very clear idea of where to go next. The choreography is busy, to put it mildly, with a troupe of aerialists and acrobats swinging and tumbling down ropes to evoke Rusalka’s underwater domain, stuffed deer hanging from the rafters in the castle kitchen, and a trough of real water that most of the cast have to splash through at some point in the story. But the stage is dominated by a huge burnished copper disc, like a vast coin 30 feet across, which is raised and lowered like a drawbridge to suggest the separation between the watery world of the nymphs and the human world that Rusalka is so keen to join. A smaller circle cut out of the large disc allows the transition between the two – it sounds contrived, but works well, even if it must be an anxious moment for a singer to have to stand in just the right place to pass through the hole and not be bopped on the head instead. (And spare a thought for chorus and dancers who have to crawl around in a tiny space under the disc ready to spring into action as it rises.). Pictured below by Andrew Perry: the trio of nymphs plus dancers. Scene from RusalkaRusalka is part fable, part cautionary tale about the perils of social mobility, but running through the piece like a rip in an ocean current is the tender, anguished, and ultimately unrequited love story between Rusalka and the Prince who never really has the slightest idea of what he’s taken on. As Rusalka, Pritchard conveyed with complete conviction the strange mixture of desire and aloofness that so baffles the Prince. He, played by Gerard Schneider, showed us what it is like to try and love a being that defies all social norms and whose beauty is tempered by the cool clamminess of the underwater world. Apart from Rusalka’s famous Song to the Moon, beautifully sung, it is really the Prince who has all the most passionate music in this opera, and Schneider gave us his all.

It is worth acknowledging at this point the pivotal role of the opera orchestra, in this case the Philharmonia under the nuanced direction of Douglas Boyd. The very opening of the opera was bewitching, the music creeping out from the pit without warning, but the attention to detail in Dvořák’s exemplary orchestration did much to carry the weaker moments of this opera on an irresistible stream of music. The climaxes were magnificently malevolent, laying to rest my own prejudice that Dvořák can be too “pretty” a composer. Vodnik and dancers in RusalkaCredit too to the other principals: a feisty Foreign Princess (Sky Ingram), the clucking witch Jezibaba (Christine Rice), but most of all to Musa Ngqungwana’s wonderfully powerful Vodnik or water goblin (pictured above by Andrew Perry), who does so much to try and protect Rusalka from her fatal incursion into the human world. Much of what he says has new relevance today (maybe thanks to a savvy surtitler) as he bemoans her obsession with the world of men who have turned their backs on nature and polluted his watery kingdom. Indeed, in a drought-stricken Britain, let alone Europe, who would now voluntarily give up the coolness of a forest pool for the arid desert above?

Pritchard conveyed with complete conviction the strange mixture of desire and aloofness that so baffles the Prince


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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