Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is part of Orfeo’s series, “Vienna State Opera Live.” Although an important musical center, the Austrian capital has always been an artistic backwater; this was the local premiere of their neighbor’s operatic masterpiece, 86 years late. Vienna enjoys both a concert hall and an opera house with sumptuous acoustics. I have attended three performances by this august company, but only one at the Staatsoper, a 1967 Salome that still resonates in my ears and my mind. It was perfect in every way. Some of the same elements are at work here: a magnificent opera, the glorious Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (under its alternate name), and the beautiful acoustics. The performance also benefits from a mostly-Czech cast and conductor who bring a
carefully honed view of the work from Prague’s National Theater.
Gabriela Be?a?ková owned the title role for decades; she is in her prime here, her creamy soprano even silkier than on the excellent Suprahon recording. Her “O Lovely Moon” is very good, and she gets even better as the evening wears on. When she prepares for a climactic note, there is often the tiniest pause, and her voice opens like a sped-up video of a flower blossoming. It may be a calculated mannerism, but it thrills every time. Randova, too, is at her considerable best, but having one singer double as the witch and the foreign princess is an oddity. It was probably meant to equate the two characters, who appear only in separate acts. The witch is usually a heavy mezzo, nearly a contralto, and the princess a soprano—Dolora Zajick and Eva Urbanová on the Mackerras recording—so the doubling is a challenge that Randova meets successfully, but I don’t think it adds anything to the drama. Perhaps the visual aspects contributed more on stage. Like his female compatriots, Dvorsky is in fabulous form; his ringing tenor reminiscent of Corelli, ready for Cavaradossi or Radames, complete with a hint of sob. Nesterenko, imported from Moscow rather than Prague, is a surprisingly weak link, occasionally sounding like a fish out of water; much of the role seems a poor fit to his voice, yet his second-act “Woe! Woe!” is thrilling, as his rock-solid bass cuts through the orchestra. It all ends in sheer glory, as Dvorsky matches Be?a?ková’s impassioned singing note for note. Crooning his final lines comes as a surprise, but it’s not out of place as the Prince dies in Rusalka’s embraces.
Neumann was an uninspired but capable conductor who knew his Dvo?ák; everything moves smoothly along, and the drama is never slighted. Mackerras does provide more concentration and a tighter whole on his Decca/London recording from Prague. The Vienna orchestra is rich and warm; the fine recording does it even more justice than it does the soloists, who are slightly more distant. There are occasional hints of minor interference, as if a voice were mumbling in the background (try disc 1, track 9, after 1:20 to see if it bothers you), but they are only momentarily distracting; there are a few audible footsteps and other background noises. The audience is silent, barring a cough or two, until each act is over.
There are about 21 minutes missing: the scene of the gamekeeper and the turnspit that starts act II has been cut, as have the wood nymphs dancing in act III. In other words, cut to the chase, and get on with Rusalka’s troubles. The second act was cut in the theater, too; Orfeo offers no clue about the third. There are notes in German, English, and French but no texts in any language, despite the claim on the back of the box. One might put up with this for Carmen or La Bohème, but who among us knows every line of Rusalka? Such omissions prevent this from being one’s only recording (that’s Mackerras/Fleming), yet it remains a great night at the opera; this was an evening when almost everyone was “on.” Perhaps it’s unkind to ask for more.
James H. North, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Rusalka, Op. 114/B 203 by Antonín Dvorák
Peter Dvorsky (Tenor),
Yevgeny Nesterenko (Bass),
Eva Randová (Mezzo Soprano),
Gabriela Benacková (Soprano)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Written: 1900; Bohemia
Date of Recording: 04/10/1987
Venue: Live State Opera House, Vienna, Austria
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