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Rusalka review at Glyndebourne – ‘whimsy, raunch and brutality’

Evan LeRoy Johnson and Sally Matthew in Rusalka at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton

In recent decades opera directors have found rich pickings in Dvorak’s g‎rown-up take on the Little Mermaid story. Melly Still, whose 10-year-old production is being revived at Glyndebourne, prefers not to impose a concept on this philosophical fairytale.

Not that her approach lacks sophistication. This lavish show makes creative use of ‘black theatre’ techniques and offers such coups de théâtre as a shoal of long-tailed water nymphs descending from the flies.

The downside is that the plethora of dancers, extras and imaginative touches too often deflects attention from the opera’s central issues.

Fantasy, romance, cruelty and even comedy are already in the libretto, but the staging adds whimsy, raunch, rock’n’roll, bloody brutality and, in the fairy-lit final moments, a touch of kitsch.

Fortunately, Still draws strong characterisations from an excellent cast. Sally Matthews identifies with each phase of Rusalka’s development and suffering, and her voice, with its distinctive raw-silk texture, is especially impressive in her climactic outburst in Act II. Her Prince (looking astonishingly like Prince William) is the enormously promising young American Evan LeRoy Johnson, his tenor firm and often radiant.

Slavonic bass Alexander Roslavets makes Vodnik’s intervention at the ill-fated wedding a highlight of the evening. Patricia Bardon, singing incisively, is chillingly pragmatic rather than grotesque as the witch Jezibaba, and Zoya Tsererina’s Foreign Princess projects powerful vocal and physical glamour. The three Wood Nymphs (Vuvo Mpofu, Anna Pennisi, Alyona Abramova) sound luscious.

Though never over-indulgent, conductor Robin Ticciati relishes the score’s wealth of moods and beauty, illuminating instrumental and rhythmic subtleties, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra plays like a dream.

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Lavish and bustling production of Dvorak’s magical dark fairytale