Rusalka – Opera in three acts to a libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil after “Undine” by Friedrich Heinrich de la Motte Fouqué [sung in Czech]
Wood nymphs – Natasha Jouhl; Barbara Senator & lodie Méchain
Water Sprite – Mischa Schelomianski
Rusalka – Ana María Martinez
Jezibaba – Larissa Diadkova
Prince – Brandon Jovanovich
Huntsman – John Mackenzie
Gamekeeper – Alasdair Elliot
Kitchen girl – Diana Axentii
Foreign Princess – Tatiana Pavlovskaya
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded live during August 2009 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, UK
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: July 2010
CD No: GLYNDEBOURNE
GFOCD 007-09 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes
Live recordings of opera become ever-more frequent, and with this welcome addition to the set of recordings emanating from Glyndebourne another live “Rusalka” enters a well-populated field that includes the late Richard Hickox’s Opera Australia version on Chandos and also Vaclav Neumann’s exciting, albeit distressingly truncated, version from Wiener Staatsoper dating from 1987 (available on 2 CDs from Orfeo d’Or).
First to say is that Glyndebourne’s release is handsomely packaged in a hardback booklet case that is lavish with many colour photographs of Melly Still’s memorable production. Secondly, this recording catches Jiří Bělohlávek and the London Philharmonic on absolutely blazing form; the Czech conductor simply has this music in his veins and the Orchestra responds with a thrillingly extrovert account of this beautiful and dramatic score. The microphones-placing was obviously well above the orchestra and the recording has preserved its account with all the details of Dvořák’s orchestration as clearly as they might be in a studio setting. Just listen to some of the lower string undercurrents in the duet between the Prince and the Foreign Princess towards the end of Act Two – electrifying and revelatory. The playing in some of the interludes is haunting indeed, and Bělohlávek judges mood perfectly in the doom-laden final minutes of the opera. The voices as recorded also seem to have their natural bloom and the balance between them and the orchestra is excellent. Only the off-stage vocal effects do not quite work as they seem a little too immediate. The microphones do pick up quite a lot of movement as background noise – this was quite a busy production. For most this will not matter, especially as the principal roles enjoy some really fine performances.
Ana María Martinez makes a lovely Rusalka – rich and creamy of voice and unfailingly responsive to the text. Her voice has a soulfulness that seems absolutely right for the part, and she catches the desperation of the wood-nymph’s plight unerringly; in the final act there’s a bleakness that enters her vocal palette that is very affecting indeed. Comparisons with Cheryl Barker on Chandos and Gabriela Beňačková on Orfeo are interesting. Barker is the most mettlesome and dramatic of the three. Beňačková was uniquely endowed for this role from a vocal perspective, and obviously benefits from being Czech (her studio interpretation, also under Neumann, remains my favourite). Martinez finds a compatible dramatic and vocal middle ground, and in the final act proves her way can be as satisfying as any other.
Larissa Diadkova’s instantly recognisable vocal blend of velvet and steel bursts out from the speakers with undeniable immediacy and the sense of her having a whale of a time playing the enigmatic sorceress Jezibaba is palpable. She is able counterpointed by the youthful-sounding Water Sprite of Mischa Schelomianski who has rounded, focussed tone with a lot of warmth. He has some very warm music to sing too and makes the most of it. This pairing is decidedly superior to the partnerships in these roles in the other live recordings.
In the theatre the determination of the Foreign Princess of Tatiana Pavlovskaya was a real force; she was visually alluring, vocally thrilling and yet horribly threatening. Microphones now capture a slight unevenness of delivery and the brilliancy of her voice as heard live is not transferred. Her incisive performance is exciting nonetheless and she is a strong aural foil to Martinez. Brandon Jovanovich is an excellent Prince. Like Martinez he steers a vocal middle-ground between the big and open-throated Slavic sound of Peter Dvorsky on Orfeo and the smaller scale yet ardent Rosario La Spina on Chandos. Jovanovich has a good mix of the heft and romanticism of these two respectively but his trump-card is a certain baritonal quality in his voice’s middle register. This serves to make his prince seem more ‘active’ a characterisation than the others and provides pathos to his desperation in the final act. With a mellifluous trio of nymphs and strong support from Alasdair Elliott as the gamekeeper and Diana Axentii as the Kitchen Girl (when did the gender of this part change – it is a ‘trouser role’ surely?), the smaller parts are well taken.
Those who saw the original production and want a record of a stunning evening in the theatre need not hesitate. It is probably the most consistent of the live performances overall, and the contributions of Bělohlávek and the LPO put it high on the list of overall recommendations too.