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 – Sarah Crane, Taryn Fiebig & Dominica Matthews
Water Sprite – Bruce Martin
Rusalka – Cheryl Barker
Ježibaba – Anne-Marie Owens
Prince – Rosario La Spina
Huntsman / Gamekeeper – Barry Ryan
Kitchen boy – Sian Pendry
Foreign Princess – Elizabeth Whitehouse
Opera Australia Chorus
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra
Recorded live during March 2007 in Sydney Opera House
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: February 2008
CD No: CHANDOS
CHAN 10449 (3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 33 minutes
Cheryl Barker seems to be cornering all the great dramatic Czech soprano roles for Chandos – no wonder for she’s an artist with a strong stage presence and vocal personality. Here, caught live at Sydney Opera House, she sings the role of Rusalka, one of Dvořák’s most appealing and tragic heroines and brings her to vivid theatrical life. Barker is not content to simply deliver this lyrical music in a bland if undeniably beautiful way like Renée Fleming on Sir Charles Mackerras’s Decca recording; rather Barker invests a sense of urgency and poignancy.the Act Two ballet he is not always perfectly in tune or steady and his voice lacks the ideal richness and bloom of the best interpreters – but this is being very fussy.
Anne-Marie Owens, familiar from her many appearances with English National Orchestra, Glyndebourne and other UK companies turns in a richly characterised and lush-toned very well by the engineers with a good balance between stage and pit. The off-stage singing of the nymphs is spatially successful too. Curiously, the timpani sound a little arid at times. Mercifully there is not very much stage-noise to distract the listener.
In the central act the orchestra plays particularly well in some of the dance moments – brightness tinged with the sort of melancholy that could only have been penned by a Bohemian composer). Richard Hickox generally keeps such sections going at a fair pace. He also judges tempos well for the scenes involving the sprightly kitchen boy of Sian Pendry and rich-toned gamekeeper of Barry Ryan.
The compact discs are nicely packaged, the booklet including articles, photographs, synopsis and complete text. So, there is much to enjoy here, and those who saw the production or enjoy ‘live’ recordings need have no hesitation. Decca’s prize-winning recording boasts Mackerras’s glorious account of the score beautifully recorded and a cast that aside from Fleming includes Ben Heppner: both sing beautifully if without the dramatic commitment and abandon of Chandos’s version. I have a soft spot for Václav Neumann’s account on Supraphon with the stunning and totally idiomatic Rusalka of Gabriela Beňaćková who is a dramatic match for Barker and was caught at her radiant best. Neumann also gives a loving reading, though the sound is less clear. Some of the other ladies on that recording are a little shrill and/or wobbly and though Ochman’s distinctively reedy voiced Prince is likeable it is no match for the youthfulness and freshness of Opera Australia’s Rosario La Spina: he is a tenor we should hear more of.