Opera Scotland

Rusalka 2022Garsington Opera

Read more about the opera Rusalka

 As the Garsington company's visit was previously deferred because of Covid, it was a relief to see it restored to the schedule. The resident orchestra at Garsington is now the Philharmonia and the late-romantic lushness of this score suited the band perfectly, making this a real strength of the evening. The musical director there is Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd.  He has rarely worked in Scotland, even during his first career as an oboist (with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe).  He produced a wonderfully well balanced sound from the pit and everything was beautifully paced.  The ballroom music in the second act was played with a rousing sense of style.

The work of the director Jack Furness has developed rapidly.  He was first noticed on the Fringe when his Shadwell Opera performed, if memory serves, in the atmospheric space of Rosslyn Chapel. Furness also spent some time training with Scottish Opera. This atmospheric and attractive staging, in designs by Tom Piper, worked very well. There was some real water in which the cast splashed with relish, the effect of rippling light often enhanced wtih dry ice and in the first act a greenish lighting palette. The second began in the palace kitchen - one deer roasting gently on a spit with other carcasses awaiting their turn - all this dead flesh clearly quite shocking for Rusalka as she encounters the unpleasant side of humanity.

The title role was taken by Natalya Romaniw, Welsh but of Ukrainian ancestry, she has found the Slavonic repertoire thoroughly congenial. When Scottish Opera mounted the work she sang the Foreign Princess - it seems quite unusual for a soprano to try both these completely different roles, but perhaps it is common in Prague. After a first night when she seemed slightly below form, unfortunately Romaniw had to withdraw.  Her stand-in was another successful Welsh soprano, Elin Pritchard. Although she does not seem to have sung the part before, she was the First Dryad with Scottish Opera back in 2016, so may have learned the title role at that stage.  Certainly she coped with everything with the greatest accomplishment.

Sky Ingram, an Australian with a flourishing career, has previously visited Scotland with both English Touring Opera and Opera North. Her Foreign Princess perhaps had a lighter voice than some interpreters, but she presented a tall, slender and elegant figure, well able to project the natural arrogance of the character. 

Christine Rice has developed a notable international career encompassing a wide range of parts. Her appearances in Scotland have been surprisingly limited to Handel and Mozart, so this witch in matronly Victorian black bombazine showed her talents in a very different light.

Rusalka's father, the Vodnik, regarded by the humans as a nasty, rather frightening figure, was given a hugely sympathetic performance by Musa Ngqungwana.  He has a superbly rich-toned bass and was able to dominate the stage with ease, even when only visible from the waist up.

The Prince is for most of the evening a distinctly unheroic character, completely confused by the behaviour of the two women attracted to him. Vocally the part is hugely demanding - a long and high heroic role. Gerard Schneider coped with ease with all the difficulties.

The career of choreographer Claire Darkin has taken her around the world, but she is perhaps most familiar from her years running Scottish Dance Theatre. With its headquarters at Dundee Rep, it is the only one of the Scottish national companies to have a base outside the central belt, but it has toured widely.  Here there were two contrasting styles on show.  The second act at court contained almost traditional dance music in the style of Tchaikovsky, while the forest scenes showed a completely different approach.  The water creatures moved in a very different style with six acrobats who added in circus skills, directed by Lina Johansson. The way in which these styles blended was completely engaging.

The historic context

Rusalka used to be a very rare creature in the British operatic world.  After a semi-professional London staging in 1950, Sadler's Wells put it on in 1959 - Joan Hammond's recording of 'O Silver Moon' helping its success.  It took sixty years for it to be seen in Scotland, when the Prague National Theatre brought it to the 1964 Edinburgh Festival.  Twenty years later David Pountney directed a ground-breaking staging for ENO.  Since then it has been seen at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne.  In 2016 Scottish Opera mounted a very successful production also seen at Grange Park.


One complaint which be mentioned relates to the starting time.  Rusalka is quite a long opera in three acts - comparable to say Der Rosenkavalier.  Works of comparable duration by Strauss and Wagner generally start at 6.30 or even earlier, so the final curtain allows out of town residents to stay to the end without the risk of missing final trains.  It seems that Rusalka is bracketed by Festival management with works by Handel in previous years.  A 7.15 start made it inevitable with the final curtain not until 11pm, that some patrons would cut their losses and leave at the second interval, thus missing some excellent music.  Some more thought is required..

Performance DatesRusalka 2022

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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

6 Aug, 19.15 8 Aug, 19.15 9 Aug, 19.15

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