Recorded on 10/07/2009, uploaded on 01/29/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Set in the fantastical world of fairy tales, Dvořák’s Rusalka was one of the last faintly glowing embers of Romanticism amid the ashes of Naturalistic “realism” that was rising to artistic prominence at the end of the 19th century. Its libretto, by Czech poet Jaroslav Kvapil, is based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němacová, which in turn share many elements with the more popular tale The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Composed at the turn of the century, Dvořák completed the opera over a remarkably short time between April and November 1900. It premiered with much success on March 31st the following year.
Rusalka, a water sprite in Slavic mythology, is the daughter of the Water-Goblin, ruler of the lake. She tells her father that she has fallen in love with a Prince that hunts near the lake and wishes to become human. Saddened by the turn of events, the Water-Goblin nevertheless consents to his daughter’s wishes. With the aid of a witch, Rusalka is turned into a human. As a consequence, however, she can no longer speak. Furthermore, the witch gives Rusalka a warning that should the Prince betray her, they will both eternally condemned. While hunting, the Prince finds Rusalka and takes her with him. The two are to be wed, though others are not at all pleased with Prince’s choice of a bride. A Foreign Princess, jealous of Rusalka, curses the couple. The Prince then rejects Rusalka. Having attained the affections of the Prince, the Foreign Princess is nevertheless unhappy. Rusalka returns to the lake where the witch who made her human advises her to kill the Prince with a dagger. Refusing to do so, she then becomes a bludička, a spirit lurking in the lake that lures passing humans to their death. Once again hunting near the lake, the Prince senses that Rusalka is near and calls to her. She appears and he asks her to kiss him, knowing that it will bring about his death. She consents and as they kiss, the Prince dies. Rusalka thanks the Prince for letting her experience the joys of human love and commends the Prince’s soul to God. She then retreats back into the depths of the lake.
Rusalka’s “Song to the Moon” is the most popular number from the opera. Having told her father of her love for the human Prince, she then confides in the moon her deepest feelings. Throughout the aria, Dvořák’s skill is at its best. A rich and sonorous G-flat major establishes the nocturnal scene and Rusalka’s entrancing melody effectively conveys her longing to experience the joys of love. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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