Sunday, May 13, 2001

CCM triumphs in first performance of 'Rusalka'

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Neither woman nor water nymph. I cannot live; I cannot die!” sings Rusalka, the tragic title figure in the lyric fairy tale by Dvorak. The enchanting production of Rusalka performed for the first time by the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music was a triumph in every respect.

        The lush beauty of Dvorak's score was captured elo quently by the orchestra and cast heard in Friday's performance (CCM uses a split cast). The tale, basically The Little Mermaid story, was told as a fantasy, a kind of half-dream, half-reality where the moon was a recurring visual motif, and where rich swirls of lyrical music swept the listener along.

        But even more impressive than the music and the singers — who were extraordinary — was the cast's mastering of the difficult Czech language. This production is a treasure: bravo to CCM.

        Soprano Sooyeon Kim was utterly convincing as the water nymph who aspires to be human. She was cast as crippled for her “underwater” scene in Act I, making her transformation to a blonde-tressed human standing on the rocky shore all the more striking. Ms. Kim sang the opera's one famous aria, “The Song to the Moon,” with nuance and a beautiful lyrical tone, and her acting instincts were impressive.

        As the Prince, Daniel Paget made a charismatic figure, with a focused and firm tenor. His Act I aria, “Are you real or a vision?” was touchingly delivered. He brought riveting drama to his Act II scene, where he rejected Rusalka for the Foreign Princess. Kathryn Hart, as the Foreign Princess, played out her role against a huge, Rubens-like setting with a cold demeanor and high notes that could shatter glass.

        The staging, by Malcolm Fraser with Chia Patino, was imaginative and lively in an opera that can be static. (Although an entire ballet was deleted and several arias shortened, it was nearly three hours long.) A charming moment of comic relief came between the Gamekeeper (Andrew Wilkowske) and the Turnspit (Megan Managhan) in the second act.

        Sets (Thomas Umfrid) were spare but evocative; the underwater world was evoked with sheer backdrops and plays of light (Paul Davies). There lived Vodnik, the water gnome (Andre McRae), who slithered around the Corbett Auditorium stage like a swamp thing, while he managed to project a strong voice and smooth diction. The three Wood-sprites sang of their loveliness while sparkles drifted from above.

        Costumes (Dean Mogle) had beautiful touches. .

        The orchestra, led by Mark Gibson, was seamless, providing a backdrop of extraordinary color and poetry. In softer moments, though, it overpowered the singers.


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