The tragic tale, based on the libretto of Jaroslav Kvapil, resembles a scene depicted in one of the ballads of nineteenth-century Czech writer Karel Erben, by blending beauty, melancholy and ghostliness. The work expresses a romantic feeling for nature and a certain nostalgia for a mythical era unspoiled by human superficiality and cruelty. Jiří Heřman directs the opera, and with sensitivity brings to life the work’s lyricism, which is given visual emphasis by the dancers of the National Theatre ballet ensemble.
Water goblin’s daughter Rusalka longs to have a human soul, to be with the prince she has fallen in love with. Despite her father’s warnings, she looks for the witch who has given Rusalka a human soul – on the condition that she loses her voice and can no longer return to the other nymphs of the forest. Then, Rusalka attracts the Prince’s attention and follows him to the chateau, but those living there are suspicious of her strange beauty and reticence. The prince himself, unable to read her feelings, is madly in love with a sensual foreign princess who had visited the chateau. He rejects the love of Rusalka. Then, the water goblin appears, and witnessing the cruel rejection, he curses the prince. Unhappy Rusalka searches for a just act of rescue from the witch and begs to live as she once did.
The performance features and is accompanied by the projection of atmospheric film scenes. Their illusionary qualities are such that the you often have no idea which figures are dancing on the screen and which are mysteriously emerging from behind it, which they do with balletic lightness. The exquisite sense for costume design is evidenced by the ethereal, simple dresses of the fairies/ballet dancers, the majestic appearance of the water goblin, and the menacing aura of the witch and her black-clad minions. In terms of dramatic impact, the most impressive is the figure of Rusalka, whose singular innocence and beauty are sustained by the shadow of the human world, which is constantly coming to the fore and ignoring the mystery of the magic kingdom. Heřman’s play prefers classicism to innovation. Above all, the wonder of his production consists in the fact that, as an aesthetic whole, a complete colour palette of theme is presented to the audience. It stirs the memory of childhood, when the fairy-tale realm was experienced as the most vivid reality. The musically compelling rendition of these feelings is Dvořák’s composition Hymn to the Moon.
The opera has three acts and is performed in the original Czech, with English and German subtitles. Accompanying the performers are the Choir and Orchestra of the National Theatre and the National Ballet.