Challenging 'Rusalka' may work magic on screen

Posted: February 07, 2014

This time, you're better off in the movie theater.

Though the Metropolitan Opera HD simulcasts usually aren't a 100 percent substitute for being there, Rusalka, to be shown at 12:55 p.m. Saturday in six area cinemas, presents serious challenges onstage that are readily addressed with cameras and microphones.

Dvorak's lyrical, expansive fairy-tale opera about a water sprite who falls in love with a prince is treated to the company's long-standing, traditionally handsome Otto Schenk production that's likely to photograph well but presents acoustical and logistical problems that were, at times, glaring at the Jan. 31 stage performance.

For much of Act I, Renée Fleming is stuck in a tree, even during her beautiful "Song of the Moon" aria that has been one of her vocal signatures. From some seats in the opera house, the tree - not the diva - is most visible, especially as positioned far enough back in the set that one hears only a generalized vocal impression of what Fleming is doing. One could even wonder if she's lost the rapport she once had with the role.

With no such physical encumbrances, tenor Piotr Beczala is a consistent beacon, not only vocally but with his authoritative Czech enunciation that tellingly shapes the vocal lines. But even formidable vocalists such as John Relyea (Rusalka's father) and Dolora Zajick (Jezibaba the witch) were muted by circumstances - the main glue for the performance being conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whose firm hold of the rhythm, form, and overall purpose of the opera kept Dvorak's fragile world in focus.


The Rusalka simulcast begins at 12:55 p.m. Saturday (repeated Feb. 12) at area movie theaters. Information: www.fathomevents.com or 212-362-6000.

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