Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The other Rusalka

My post last year on the music of Alexander Dargomyzhsky - the 200th anniversary of whose birth falls this year - found him to be an interesting rather than an inspiring composer. Now, however, I've come across a 1971 film of his other great opera Rusalka and I've enjoyed watching it. The piece is one that gets occasional mentions outside Russia (and the Ukraine) for being "the other Rusalka" (i.e. not the popular opera by Dvorak). It also gets occasional mentions in articles and books about music acknowledging its steps towards the "melodic recitative" Dargomyzhsky made famous in The Stone Guest and which had such an influence on Russian composers to come. Mentions, however, are all his Rusalka gets. We never get to hear the piece here in the United Kingdom. 

Rusalka, based (like The Stone Guest) on Pushkin, follows in the paths of Glinka by displaying strong elements of Italian opera (Bellini, Donizetti & Co., arias, duets, terzettos and cavatinas) alongside Russian-sounding, folk-like elements. The style is predominantly a lyrical one, such as would be found in the still-to-be-written operas of Smetana. 

The story tells of how a Prince courts a miller's daughter called Natalia (in disguise of course). The Prince, however, then goes on to marry a wealthy foreign lady instead. Natalia, having fallen pregnant, despairs and throws herself into the river. Time passes. The Prince is unhappy in his marriage to the Princess and lurks by the river pining for Natalia. She, in the meantime, has become the queens of the rusalkas (water nymphs) and, though still in love with the Prince, plots revenge and gets their young daughter to draw him into the waters. Her father, incidentally, has gone mad. The Princess tries to save the Prince but he hears Natalia's voice and follows her into the waters.

The passage with the daughter is an unusual one in that the girl playing the role has to speak rather than sing over the orchestra. The orchestra's importance is growing towards its key role in The Stone Guest

Please take a listen and see what you make of it. Just don't expect to hear the Song to the Moon

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