- Rusalka, opera, B. 203 (Op. 114)
Given Dvorák's generous melodic gifts, his warmly lush musical language, and a dramatically engaging romantic plot, it's surprising that "Rusalka," written at the turn of the twentieth century, has taken so long to begin to move into the repertoire of opera houses beyond Eastern Europe. The story is essentially a Slavic version of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid": a sea creature falls in love with a mortal prince, with tragic consequences. Dvorák's rhapsodically lyrical vocal writing is evident not only in the opera's most familiar excerpt, "Song to the Moon," but in numerous solos and ensembles. This recording, taken from a 1976 broadcast of a live Dutch performance, features the Broadcast Orchestra and Netherlands Opera Chorus. Czech conductor Bohumil Gregor is a Dvorák specialist and leads a spirited and idiomatic performance that emphasizes the opera's high drama. The unevenness of the orchestra's performance is the biggest weakness of this version. Sometimes it sounds beautifully controlled, but there are many moments when the horns' bloopers are so egregious that those sections are almost unlistenable. The chorus sounds underpowered and sometimes sings with less than lovely tone. The soloists are for the most part very fine. Teresa Stratas' in the title role is the strongest element in the recording. Her singing is warm and passionate and she brings a poignant vulnerability to the role. Gwendolyn Killebrew capably handles the roles of both Jezibaba and the Foreign Princess, giving each a distinctive vocal characterization. Ivo Zidek lacks the heroic bearing and timbre to be fully convincing as the Prince. As the Water Sprite, Willard White generally has a somewhat grainy timbre and doesn't always sound fully focused, but in his big second act aria he summons the power and intensity to make it truly gripping. The sound quality is surprisingly good for a recording made from a broadcast, with good balance and separation. Overall, the outstanding "Rusalka" on the market is Charles Mackerras' version with Renée Fleming and Ben Heppner, but at a fraction of its cost Opera d'Oro's recording could be of interest to listeners curious about the work.