The tragic fairy-tale about the immortal water nymph Rusalka who falls in love with a prince and yearns to become human.
Considered to be the operatic retelling of The Little Mermaid story, Rusalka is a Czech fairy-tale about a mermaid who longs to be human, so that she can be with the Prince who swims in the lake. When her father Vodník (the water-sprite) cannot help her she turns to Ježibaba, the witch.
The witch casts a spell to make Rusalka human, but in return she must give up her beautiful voice and if she cannot make the Prince love her she will return to the water, and he will be cursed. The Prince falls in love with the fragile, silent Rusalka, until a bold and ambitious foreign princess arrives at the castle and he chases her instead. Vodník rescues Rusalka from the Prince, and puts a curse on him. When he turns to the foreign princess for help she spitefully refuses.
Rusalka, longing to return to the water, and to her sister sprites, makes another deal with Ježibaba. This time, she must take the Prince’s life in order to return to her own, but she refuses and throws the dagger she is offered into the lake. In her sorrow she becomes a bludička; a spirit of death. The sick Prince seeks her out to ask for her forgiveness and, knowing that it will be fatal, asks her for one last kiss.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Czech
About 2 hours 30 min + intervals
A meadow by the edge of a lake
Three wood-sprites tease the Water-Gnome, ruler of the lake. Rusalka, the Water-Nymph, tells her father she has fallen in love with a human Prince who comes to hunt around the lake, and she wants to become human to embrace him. He tells her it is a bad idea, but nonetheless steers her to a witch, Ježibaba, for assistance. Rusalka sings her "Song to the Moon", asking it to tell the Prince of her love. Ježibaba tells Rusalka that, if she becomes human, she will lose the power of speech and immortality; moreover, if she does not find love with the Prince, he will die and she will be eternally damned. Rusalka agrees to the terms and drinks a potion. The Prince, hunting a white doe, finds Rusalka, embraces her, and leads her away, as her father and sisters lament.
The garden of the Prince's castle
A Gamekeeper and his nephew, the Kitchen-Boy, note that the Prince is to be married to a mute and nameless bride. They suspect witchcraft and doubt it will last, as the Prince is already lavishing attentions on a Foreign Princess who is a wedding guest. The Foreign Princess, jealous, curses the couple. The prince rejects Rusalka. Rusalka then goes back to the lake with her father the Water-Gnome. Though she has now won the Prince's affections, the Foreign Princess is disgusted by the Prince's fickleness and betrayal and she scorns him, telling him to follow his rejected bride to Hell.
A meadow by the edge of a lake
Rusalka asks Ježibaba for a solution to her woes and is told she can save herself if she kills the Prince with the dagger she is given. Rusalka rejects this, throwing the dagger into the lake. Rusalka becomes a bludička, a spirit of death living in the depths of the lake, emerging only to lure humans to their deaths. The Gamekeeper and the Kitchen Boy consult Ježibaba about the Prince, who, they say, has been betrayed by Rusalka. The Water-Goblin says that it was actually the Prince that betrayed Rusalka. The wood-sprites mourn Rusalka's plight. The Prince, searching for his white doe, comes to the lake, senses Rusalka, and calls for her. He asks her to kiss him, even knowing her kiss means death and damnation. They kiss and he dies; and the Water-Goblin comments that "All sacrifices are futile." Rusalka thanks the Prince for letting her experience human love, commends his soul to God, and returns to her place in the depths of the lake as a demon of death.
Rusalka – Soprano (lyric)
A water nymph
The prince – Tenor
Vodník – Bass
The water goblin
The foreign princess – Soprano
Ježibaba – Mezzo-soprano
First wood sprite – Soprano
Second wood sprite – Soprano
Third wood sprite – Contralto
Gamekeeper - Tenor
Turnspit/Kitchen boy - Soprano
Hunter - Baritone
Place of birth: Nelahozeves near Prague, Czech Republic (Austrian Empire)
Place of death: Prague, Czech Republic
Antonín Leopold Dvořák was a Czech composer, one of the first to achieve worldwide recognition. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák's own style has been described as "the fullest recreation of a national idiom with that of the symphonic tradition, absorbing folk influences and finding effective ways of using them".
All of Dvořák's nine operas, except his first, have librettos in Czech and were intended to convey the Czech national spirit, as were some of his choral works. By far the most successful of the operas is Rusalka.
“In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”
Antonín Dvořák was very interested in folk music. He had a fanatical interest in trains and suffered a psychological fear of open spaces.
Most prominent operas
Jaroslav Kvapil was a Czech poet, theatre director, translator, playwright, and librettist. He is most known for writing the libretto for Dvořák's Rusalka. The libretto is based on the fairy tales by Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová about the water sprite Rusalka in Slavic mythology.
2+1, 2+1, 2+1, 2 - 4, 3, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, strings
Rusalka was first performed in Prague in 1901. It became an enormous success and soon also gained recognition abroad.
Today Rusalka is one of the top 40 most performed operas worldwide.
Aria - Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém "Song to the moon" (Rusalka)