A spritely tale that ends heavily

A rusalka is a water sprite from Slavic mythology, and according to most traditions the rusalka was a mermaid who lived at the bottom of a river. If she saw a handsome man, she would fascinate him with songs and dancing, mesmerise him, and then lead him away to the river floor to his death.


From November 25 until January 29, you too can be fascinated or mesmerised with songs and dancing when Antonín Dvo?ák’s opera Rusalka comes to the Opera House courtesy of the Royal Danish Opera.


The opera, which premiered in Prague in 1901, is said to be based on the fairytales of the Czech writers  Bozena Nemcova and Karel Jaromir Erben, who were inspired by old folk tales and Slavic mythology. For many years the opera was relatively unknown outside of Czechoslovakia, but in the last few decades its popularity has grown and grown – especially with the soprano Renée Fleming’s interpretation of the role of Rusalka and the famed opera hit ‘Song to the Moon’.


The opera, consisting of three acts, is replete with hypnotic, atmospheric music, and critics argue that it shows Dvo?ák at the height of his maturity. The libretto was written by the Czech poet Jaroslav Kvapil and has shares plot similarities with HC Andersen’s fairytale The Little Mermaid.


The first act takes place at a meadow by the edge of a lake. Here we meet the ruler of the lake, Vodník, and his daughter, Rusalka, as she tells her father she has fallen in love with a human prince when he came to swim in the lake. Her love is so deep that she wants to become human so she can be with him. Vodník tells her that humans are evil and full of sin, but when Rusalka insists, claiming they are full of love, he despairingly sends her to the witch Ježibaba, who tells Rusalka that if she becomes human, she will lose the power of speech, and if she is betrayed by the prince, both of them will be eternally damned. Rusalka agrees to the terms and drinks a potion that makes her human. When the prince is out hunting the next day, he finds Rusalka, is captivated by her beauty and leads her to his castle while her father and sisters lament.


The second act, set at the garden of the prince’s castle, takes place shortly before the approaching wedding between Rusalka and the prince. A foreign princess, who has come for the wedding, mocks Rusalka’s muteness and reproaches the prince for ignoring his guests. The prince sends Rusalka away to dress for the ball and escorts the princess into the castle. In the deserted garden, Vodník appears from the pool. Rusalka, suddenly recovering her voice, rushes to him, tells him that the prince no longer loves her and begs him to help. The prince and the princess come into the garden where the prince rejects Rusalka. Vodník warns the prince of the fate that awaits him and then disappears into the water with Rusalka. When the prince asks the princess for help, she laughs and tells him to follow his bride into hell.


In the third act Rusalka sits by the lake, lamenting her fate. Ježibaba appears and hands her a dagger and explains that she can save herself if she kills the prince. Rusalka refuses, throwing the dagger into the lake. When her sisters reject her as well, she sinks into the lake in despair. The prince, desperate and half-crazy with remorse, emerges from the forest looking for Rusalka and calls out to her to return to him. She appears from the water, reproaching him for his infidelity and explains that now a kiss from her would kill him. Accepting his destiny, he asks her to kiss him to give him peace. She does, and he dies in her arms. Rusalka asks for mercy on his soul and vanishes into the water.


The production of Rusalka at the Royal Danish Opera is directed by the award-winning English director Richard Jones. Swedish soprano Ylva Kihlberg will play the title role, and the in-demand Czech conductor Tomáš Hanus leads the Royal Danish Orchestra. Get yourself ready for a mesmerising night at the opera!



Store Scene, Operaen, Ekvipagemestervej 10, Cph K; starts Mon, ends Jan 29, performances at 19:30 on Mon, Thu, Nov 30, Dec 3, Jan 21, Jan 23, Jan 25, Jan 29; tickets: 125-795kr; duration 190 mins with two intervals; sung in Czech with Danish supertitles