Recognized as Antonin Dvořák’s most successful creation for stage, the opera Rusalka has had a modern makeover in Philipp Stölzl and Philipp M Krenn’s adaptation for Dutch National Opera. This version stars South African soprano Johanni van Oostrum in the title role, with Czech tenor Pavel Černoch as the Prince, American mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis as the witch Ježibaba and Annette Dasch as the foreign princess. German conductor Joana Mallwitz leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
In early 1900, Antonin Dvořák was looking for a libretto for a theatrical new work – preferably something based on Czech history. He was given a text written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil which bore the title Rusalka, and was based on the story of Ondine (also known as Undine) – a traditional European mythological figure who, according to folklore, gave her love to a human prince at the risk of losing her life should he be unfaithful to her. Kvapil deliberately placed his libretto in the context of a Czech scenario, and the setting of Dvořák’s opera was almost certainly dictated by the composer’s well-known love of nature. Dvořák’s Rusalka premiered at the National Theater in Prague in 1901, and although his music was celebrated internationally during his lifetime, Rusalka is the only one of his operas to gain a following outside Bohemia.
Philipp Stölzl and Philipp M Krenn’s adaptation of Rusalka has a more modern setting, depicting a young woman on the outskirts of society. At the cinema, she falls in love with a Hollywood star, and fantasises about living in the golden heyday of Hollywood. She goes to great lengths to enter this world – but will reality live up to the dream? Both directors have a cinematic background – Stölzl is a film director and set designer, as well as working in opera and the theatre, and Krenn was an actor before moving into directing.
Following a performance as the Contessa in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro for Minnesota Opera, Johanni van Oostrum was said by Postbullitin to have been “stunning” …. and “…. glorious, with a warmth and purity of tone that floats to all corners of the hall”. A signature role of hers is that of The Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier which she has sung at venues such as Dutch National Opera, the Vienna State Opera, at the Royal Swedish Opera, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Komische Oper Berlin. Ms van Oostrum recently sang the role of Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Bavarian State Opera, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Tokyo Spring Festival 2022 and the Hessische Staatstheater Wiesbaden, and other highlights of her season are performances as Chrysothemis in Strauss’s Elektra in Hamburg, and Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Tokyo Spring Festival 2023. As Agathe in Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, she was “sensational” in the Dutch National Opera production, and “… an unexpected revelation” at the Barbican in London, according to The Artsdesk.
Pavel Černoch frequently appears at many of Europe’s leading opera houses, including Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera, Opernhaus Zurich, Théatre La Monnaie in Brussels, Opéra National in Paris, Teatro Real Madrid, Dutch National Opera Amsterdam, the Bregenz Festival and the Glyndebourne Festival. He has also appeared as a concert soloist with major orchestras and festivals in the United Kingdom and Europe. Operatic roles which Mr Černoch has taken include those of Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, the title role in Don Carlos, Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème, Pinkerton in his Madama Butterfly, Cavaradossi in Tosca, the title roles in both Gounod’s and Berlioz’s Faust, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, and Albert Gregor in Janáček’s The Makropulos Case. Other appearances include those at the Metropolitan Opera, Salzburg Summer Festival, Royal Opera House London, Bavarian State Opera Munich and Canadian Opera Toronto.
Annette Dasch returns to Dutch National Opera where she was seen in the lead role in Janáček’s Jenůfa, also appearing as Chawa in Rudi Stephan’s Die ersten Menschen and as Ghita in Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg.
Raehann Bryce-Davis made notable house debuts during the 2021-2022 season, at the Metropolitan Opera in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, at La Monnaie in Brussels as La Zia Principessa in Puccini’s Suor Angelica, and as Azucena in Verdi’s Il trovatore at the Glimmerglass Festival. She returned to both Los Angeles Opera and the Staatstheater Nürnberg as Azucena, and to Opera Ballet Vlaanderen as Der Komponist in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. On the concert stage, she was hailed by the New York Times as a “striking mezzo … singing with the BBC Proms as a soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9” with the Chineke! Orchestra.
Joana Mallwitz makes her Amsterdam debut as she leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in these performances of Rusalka. General Music Director of the Nuremberg State Theatre since 2018, she was named Conductor of the Year by critics of Opernwelt magazine in 2019, and in 2020 she was the first female conductor to be engaged by the Salzburg Festival to lead Mozart’s Così fan tutte, following which she received rave reviews. Celebrated by critics as an “exceptionally talented conductor”, she has been described by Süddeutsche Zeitung as a “stage designer in sound” in the way she shapes and animates the musical action.
Dvořák’s Rusalka runs at the Dutch National Opera from 2nd to 25th June. Further information and tickets are available from the Dutch National Opera website.
All photographs © Clärchen and Matthias Baus
Information sourced from:
Dutch National Opera programme notes
Ancient Origins https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/rusalka-mythical-slavic-mermaid-006738