Reviewer's rating

Olomouc has just over 100,000 inhabitants with a popular opera culture. The mainly young audience was well-dressed. The comfortable theatre was extended and reconstructed in 1940, set in the gorgeous main square.

Dvořak’s Rusalka is the fairy-tale introduction to opera for Czechs at an early age. Or at least it should be.  The website warns – no under 12’s. It was a coup to attract theatre (not opera) director brothers Michal and Ŝimon Caban. Their idea was to attract new opera-goers and create a captivating drama instead of the classic fairy-tale. In Vodnik’s warning words to Rusalka – běda (woe) to anyone who messes with Rusalka’s strong tradition, especially in Czechia.

Their Rusalka is a murder mystery taking place in fairy-tale and virtual reality. Throughout the Prelude, police take away a body bag by the lake.

Rusalka’s sisters dance in brown fins (not easy). Vodnik is glued to his computer, mobile and virtual reality goggles, imagining himself a young prince again; uninterested in Rusalka, he sends her to Jezibaba, a cosmetic surgeon.  Jezibaba punches Rusalka’s symptoms into a computer, handing her pills as Rusalka is prepped for surgery. The whole Ĉury mury fuk/hubble bubble toil and trouble scene, one of the best, is CUT. Dancers in white hazmat suits dance(?), give Rusalka clothes and THEN she sings ‘Měsíĉku na nebi hlubokém’(song of the moon) instead of at the beginning. Half-naked dancers warm up on a barre behind(?) Rusalka doesn’t understand what clothes are, so she puts the tartan skirt around her shoulders and wears the yellow crocs. Prince is the head foreman of works going on around the lake.

Prince is an unattractive, balding, overweight, molesting, drug taking, cocaine sniffing, rapist brute. There is a rape scene; because Rusalka has lost her speech, she can’t say no.  A week later, bored with Rusalka, Prince has a fling with Princess. Princess is the same singer as Jezibaba (maybe an intentional plot to destroy Rusalka?) Gamekeeper and kitchen boy scenes are cut. Rusalka, deeply miserable finds the only water source, and sticks her head down a toilet. (What IS it with toilets at the moment?)  Vodnik, now a tramp, eats discarded food out of dustbins. Prince takes loads of drugs, then cocaine, and drug-fuelled, finds Rusalka, begging for her deathly kiss. She shows him the result of his rape – pregnancy! She kisses him, he dies, police arrive taking pregnant Rusalka away in handcuffs. Virtual reality goggles are on and off by Vodnik and Rusalka throughout the action.

Updating operas can work well.  Emphasising the problems between marriages of different cultures, background, class, and the naivety of an innocent who falls for someone she doesn’t know who corrupts and betrays, her can also work. Rape and drug use do not work in Rusalka.

It is crucial to be true to the score and unacceptable to ignore Dvořak’s music, chopping and swapping to suit the production, fundamentally changing such an important, well-known work.  Dvořak would be furious. Had the directors renamed the show ‘Rusalka’s tale, featuring music by Dvořak’, it would have been acceptable.

I liked the set, with shiny surfaces reflecting water.

Czech soprano Radoslava Müller as Rusalka has a world class voice and Rusalka one forgets the production when she sings.

Czech bass, Jiři Přibyl’s Vodnik was beautifully sung. He has a gorgeous instrument, but his ‘e’ vowel, sung repeatedly on ‘běda’, is too covered and needs freeing up to keep the voice spinning.

Czech tenor Jakub Rousek’s Prince has intonation problems due to lack of support, often let go before the end of a phrase, top notes also problematic for this reason.

Czech mezzo Petra Vondrová sang both the mezzo role of Jezibaba and soprano role of Princess. She has a rich middle and lower register, but a bad vibrato in the higher register and harsh top notes.

The conductor did his best with what was left of the score.

This cannot be a good message for young people; I understand why the audience was outraged on the first night.

The Dutch National Opera have recently reset the story in Hollywood: Rusalka is a drug addicted prostitute, Vodnik a pimp, Prince a movie star, and Jezibaba again a cosmetic surgeon. However, the music remains intact.

I prefer the fairy tale; it works better with the music.