Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bohumil Gregor, cond; Teresa Stratas (
); Gwendolyn Killebrew (
); Ivo Židek (
); Willard White (
); Broadcast O & Netherlands Op Ch
OPERA D’ORO 7059 (2 CDs: 124:25
Text and Translation) Live: Scheveningen
One might think we never need another recording of
, as the Charles Mackerras/Renée Fleming set on Decca/London (
22:4) reaches a level of perfection seldom found in opera. Yet every new issue has something special to offer: Orfeo presents the opera’s Vienna premiere (in 1987!) under Vaclav Neumann, with Gabriela Be?a?ková in even creamier voice than her marvelous Supraphon recording. Hickox on Chandos (31:6) has a so-so Rusalka, but Rosario La Spina as The Prince has the most golden tenor voice I’ve heard since the young Pavarotti. This Opera d’Oro performance offers riveting drama, heard through an otherwise decent stereo recording that is sometimes plagued with onstage clomping noises. Stratas cannot match the vocal beauty of Fleming or Be?a?ková, but her Rusalka is vocal acting on a Callas level, a heart-rending performance that overwhelms this listener. As the only Czech in the cast, Židek’s vowels are cleaner than anyone else’s are, but he has a dry, tight voice that turns hard in the role’s many high passages. Killebrew pulls off the double role of witch and princess; she is excellent in her duets with Židek. White is a superb Watersprite, both vocally and dramatically. For once the role is convincing; this father figure obviously cares deeply about his wandering, doomed charge.
This issue is heavily cut, by more than 30 minutes—as are all two-disc releases of
; of those mentioned, only Mackerras and Hickox are complete. But the cuts are well chosen and well disguised by the tight dramatic coherence of the performance. The flawed recording doesn’t bother me, but an outrageous, almost pornographic cover picture does. A previous, low-priced Opera d’Oro release of this recording—with an acceptable cover—had no libretto; this midpriced edition comes with a 40-page booklet that includes cast and track listings; a fine essay on the opera, its history, and the cast; a synopsis of the action; and side-by-side Czech and English librettos.
Stratas, Killebrew, and White each give the performance of a lifetime, and Gregor provides magnificent leadership. The whole is filled with beauty, power, and angst. This fine Dutch orchestra delivers some passionate, committed playing; a few horn bobbles and brass inconsistencies suggest that the moist, cold November winds were blowing off the North Sea in this resort town on the dunes, but they don’t matter one whit. What a night this must have been in Scheveningen!
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Rusalka, Op. 114/B 203 by Antonín Dvorák
Willard White (Bass)
Netherlands Opera Chorus,
Netherlands Opera Orchestra
Written: 1900; Bohemia
Length: 128 Minutes 9 Secs.
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