Melly Still’s 2009 production of Dvořák’s Rusalka, now in its third revival at Glyndebourne, plays to the rule ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, regardless of those who have decried the supernumerary water sprites (with bewitching mermaid tails) or Act Two’s crowded kitchen scene with too many dinner-courses ferried across the stage and a floor sweeper with all the enthusiasm of someone on a zero-hours contract. However, there are always Rae Smith’s stylish costumes and lakeside tableaux with its wriggling creations – beautifully lit – enchanted yet faintly sinister.
We are left to provide our own subtexts about the water-nymphs, suspended between human and supernatural worlds as a consequence of Rusalka’s failure to win her princely lover, although one doesn’t have to guess what’s on their minds, or the fiercely jealous foreign princess. Even the trees have a predatory quality. Most overtly sexual is when a silent and now womanly Rusalka (daringly muted by Dvořák throughout most of Act Two) seduces the prince in an impulsive and frenzied action underlining her not-so-innocent determination to prove she isn’t some “frigid little water bubble”.
It’s not all doom and gloom given the atmospheric transformation scene (with its swirling dance music) borders on pantomime. Act Three’s cavorting nymphs outstay their welcome though, but presumably their increasing disarray and insatiable designs on the gamekeeper puts in stark relief the earthly pleasures that are denied to Rusalka.
If not all ensemble routines convince, solo contributions are uniformly secure. Sally Matthews as the doom-laden Rusalka inhabits all her desire and bitter disappointment and possesses the necessary vocal range and power. Once she got through ‘Song to the Moon’ (hampered by poor diction and woolly tone) she built towards some ravishing singing. There is plenty of passion between her and Evan LeRoy Johnson. He’s a plausible prince, robust in tone, passionate, yet able to condense the sound to summon pleas for forgiveness, which he does to touching effect.
Zoya Tsererina as the ‘other woman’ impresses with her deep-pile mezzo and self-assurance, so too Patricia Bardon as the fearsome Ježibaba. Alix le Saux and Colin Judson make a fine double-act as the Kitchen Girl and Gamekeeper, but what crowns the evening is the caressing warmth of Alexander Roslavets as Vodnik, Rusalka’s father.
Robin Ticciati draws ardent playing from the London Philharmonic, unveiling Dvořák’s wealth of music and glorious colours with flawless sensitivity.
- Eleven further performances until August 21