I love fairy tales and Dvorak music and opera. This mermaid fairy tale is showing locally tomorrow morning here on PST at 10 am. Looks incredible.
With great and happy anticipation I went to the live showing of Rasulka in Imax at my local movie theater at 10 am PST. How amazing it was to find the theater more than half full at that hour of the morning for opera. That did my heart good.
It was a lovely experience, not perfect, but lovely. I was drawn to this particular opera because it's based on a fairy tale and I am a devotee of Bruno Bettelheim's book and theory, "The Uses of Enchantment" about how important telling children fairy tales is to their emotional development. As a mother, I found it very useful and fun to use with my son. But that's another story. However, one of Bettelheim's key points is that fairy tales have many levels of meaning which vary according to the interpretation of those who are responding to them, usually children, but in the case of a professional performance, it is the director and singers who are interpreting the tale for the audience.
First, I must confess that I am a musical ignoramus, pure and simple. What I love about opera is the passion mixed with singing, great music and dramatic stories. I'm sure they could sing the whole performance off key and I would never notice. That being said, I really didn't care for opera on Imax. I found it odd and unpleasant for the camera to take us so often up close to someone singing to reach the upper balcony of Lincoln Center. I found it jarring.
Still, I enjoyed the whole look and feel of this production very much. It was fresh and modern, without violating the fairy tale genre. For instance, this opera was staged in another production to look as if it took place in Paris. Well, that's okay, fairy tales are made to be interpreted, but I prefer my fairy tales told straight, with magical ponds, intriguing wood nymphs, frog kings with pods for hands and a mermaid with real mermaid hair and a fish tail.
I thought Kristine Opolais as Rasulka the mermaid was marvelous, very appealing and very moving. Her voice seemed pure, soaring and capable of emotional subtlety as well as gorgeous passion. She is a more than competent actress in a role that has some real challenges which neither the music nor the story provide much help to make believable. Rasulka the mermaid falls for a Prince, but in order to be able to be human, mortal and have legs, she must give up her voice. She will not be able to speak to the Prince.
Sadly, once she has done this, she is repulsed by his animal need for her passion. This is hard to understand, as even another member of the audience commented. She wanted him so badly, and then she doesn't. The libretto really doesn't justify this. Things like this do happen in fairy tales, but this is a more modern fairy tale, not a classical Grimm tale, so it feels like there is some emotional trigger missing.
As the Prince, I liked Brandon Javanovich's performance very much. His singing and voice seemed superb to me, but I have read some criticism by people who know better. As an ordinary opera lover, I found his voice and acting very affecting and thrilling.
I'm afraid the subtlety of the Dvorak score went right over my head. It seemed pale and uninspiring. Puccini and Verdi are more my line. I confess that for a week after seeing this opera, I kept humming the Vilja song from the Lehar's operetta "The Merry Widow", which is a song about a wood fairy seducing a hunter. Lehar is just so effortlessly melodic and it seemed to sum up Rasulka's feelings. Oh, well. I'll have to find another way to get my opera fix. But it was awfully nice to be at an opera performance.
What I missed quite a lot was the enthusiasm of the crowd that occurs at a live performance. How I love it when, thrilled by a Pavorotti any great performance, the audience leaps to their feet shouting Bravo or Brava at the top of their lungs. Oh, my! The human voice with great singing is just a sublime pleasure beyond almost anything.