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The Sunday Opera: Antonin Dvorak's "Rusalka" from China's National Center for the Performing Arts

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Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts is the source once again for this week’s Sunday Opera (10/9 3:00 p.m.) and a production of Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka.”

The story is highly similar to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” but is reportedly based on the fairytales gleaned from the Nordic folk legends by Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová which came before Andersen’s.

Rusalka is a water nymph who has fallen in love with a prince who came to bathe in her lake. She wants nothing more than to become human so that she can be with the prince, and after a great deal of pleading, her father, the Water Goblin Vodnik, tells her the only way she can achieve this is to make a pact with Jezibaba which, of course, she does but at a cost: she cannot speak and will be damned for eternity if the prince does not fall in love with and marry her.

She becomes human and seems to win the love of the prince until the foreign princess (who may be Jezibaba in disguise) arrives. The prince’s head is turned, and he rejects Rusalka.

The distraught Rusalka returns to the lake where she is told by Jezibaba that she can save herself by killing the prince which Rusalka refuses to do, so she is condemned to be a will-o-the-whisp who inhabits the depths of the lake, only rising to lure men to their deaths.

After the prince is jilted and scorned by the princess, he finds his way to the lake and summons Rusalka, asks her for the kiss he knows will kill him, and dies in her arms. As Rusalka sinks into the lake, she sings, "For your love, for that beauty of yours, for your inconstant human passion, for everything by which my fate is cursed, human soul, God have mercy on you!" Having forgiven him, she tries to save his soul.

This production features a mostly Asian cast which is unusual since China doesn’t have a Western opera tradition. Rusalka is Zhou Xiaolin, The Prince is Ladislav Elgr, Jezibaba is Guo Yanyu, Ant the Water Goblin is Tian Haojiang, and Rastislav Stur conducts.

We’re happy to be bringing you more music of Dvorak after the opera. Besides two of his Bagatelles performed by the Sharoun Ensemble, there will be a performance of Dvorak’s true Symphony No. 1, written for a contest when Dvorak was 26 but was lost, stolen, or misplaced at the time and eventually found in a secondhand bookshop many years later. This truly interesting look at Dvorak’s early composing style is performed here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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