Rusalka encores on Sunday
The Live in HD performance of Rusalka played to an appreciative audience at Carib 5 last Saturday. Opera fans will have another opportunity to enjoy the melodic score at encore performances this Sunday, February 16, 11:30 a.m., at Palace Cineplex, Sovereign Centre, Liguanea, and Palace Multiplex, Fairview Shopping Centre, Montego Bay.
Czech composer Antonin Leopold Dvorak (September 8, 1841-May 1, 1904) graduated from the organ school in Prague in 1859. In the 1860s, he taught piano lessons and played as a violist in the Bohemian Provisional Theatre Orchestra. In 1873, he married Anna Cermakova and left the orchestra to become a church organist. Dvorak's music attracted the interest of Johannes Brahms, who helped to shape his career.
After the premiere of his cantata Stabat Mater (1880), Dvorak visited the United Kingdom and became popular there. His Seventh Symphony was written for London. After a brief conducting stint in Russia in 1890, Dvorak was appointed as a professor at the Prague Conservatory in 1891.
In 1892, Dvorak moved to the United States and became the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City, where he also composed. Ironically, while suffering shortfalls in the payment of his salary in New York, Dvorak's recognition was on the rise in Europe and the onset of homesickness made him decide to return to Bohemia.
From 1895 until his death, he composed mainly operatic and chamber music.
Dvorak has been described as "arguably the most versatile composer of his time". And the Met's Rusalka conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin "loves every bar of this score". Nezet-Seguin currently holds leadership posts with the Orchestre Metropolitain (Montreal), the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Your Met repertoire so far includes three of the biggest names in French and Italian opera - Verdi, Bizet, and Gounod. What draws you to Dvorak?
I have been a huge fan of the music of Brahms since I was 12 years old. Discovering his music led naturally to Dvorak's and I quickly became a Dvorak lover as well. His unique lyricism, combined with the vitality of his rhythmical writing, make a very compelling combination. And his vocal writing is the same - as a young chorister, I remember singing performances of his Mass in D, and I simply loved it right away. When I was invited to make my debut at Covent Garden with Rusalka in 2012, I was extremely excited and my love for this opera only grew as I worked on it and conducted it.
Are there any particular challenges and rewards of performing an opera by a composer primarily known for his orchestral music?
It is not a universally known fact, but Dvorak composed several operas, and this side of his work was very important to him. He always fought to be recognised as an opera composer. Through opera, he could express his melodic ideal, his Bohemian roots, and his science of orchestration. For a conductor, Rusalka is very rewarding, because the orchestral writing is really influenced by his symphonic style. We can treat it like the most wonderful symphonic poem, to which we add vocal lines of sublime inspiration. It's the best of both worlds! The specific difficulties lie in the detailed rhythmical figures, which have to be clearly delineated while supporting the vocal line onstage.
Tickets are on sale for the 2013-2014 season at participating theatre box offices and via the Web at http://www.palaceamusement.com with a Palace Card. Season passes are available for all 10 live performances only.
Rusalka's Song to the Moon is one of the most recognisable melodies in opera. What are some of the other highlights of the score that audiences should be listening for?
The poetry of the orchestral colours tells the story in a very powerful way. For example, in the Song to the Moon, there is a recurring figure from the violins and the harp, which comes back a lot throughout the opera, expressing the image of the moon and the wind as well as the longing, unsettled quality of Rusalka's mood. Each time this figure comes back, it has a different colour and a different meaning within the dramatic curve of the piece. Dvorak's use of the leitmotif is unique. And there are moments of such beauty and such generosity, like the music sung by the Prince... I love every single bar of this opera!
Renee Fleming is the most acclaimed interpreter of the title role today. What makes it such a good fit for her?
Anything sung by Renee Fleming becomes the most gorgeous music. The creamy tone of her voice and her peerless control of the musical line bring out the exquisite lyrical writing of Dvorak's music and the various shadings she is able to create with her voice express the character's complexity perfectly. You are right - there is just something special about Renee and Rusalka.