University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Dvorak: Rusalka

10/01/2017 1:00 pm
10/01/2017 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

I was jinxed the first time I tried to broadcast Antonin Dvorak's Rusalka (1901) on Sunday, May 22, 1994. I had hoped to air an old Urania LP set, recorded in mono sound in 1952 in East Germany, setting forth this the greatest of all Czech operas in German language translation. I was unable to get hold of that recording by showtime, so I substituted the much more recent Supraphon CD release of excerpts from the opera in the original Czech.

Prior to this 1984 release, Supraphon, the Czechoslovak state record label, had recorded Rusalka twice. Their 1984 Rusalka is clearly better than all those that came before it, in no small part because of soprano Gabriela Benackova's soaring interpretation of the title role. Vaclav Neumann directs the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. The complete three act opera was issued on three compact discs.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) is best known today for his "New World" Symphony no. 9 and for his Slavonic Dances and other orchestral works. He also wrote eight operas, but they are rarely performed outside of his native country. All of Dvorak's music is redolent of Nature, and the beauties of the Bohemian countryside were often the direct inspiration for some of his finest music. Such is the case with the fairy tale opera Rusalka. Thinking about the jinx, the story of Rusalka concerns a magic spell which is ultimately a curse. A water nymph undertakes the spell because she wants to win the love of a mortal prince. Tragic consequences ensue.

I last broadcast the 1984 Supraphon Rusalka on Sunday, June 16, 1996.