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  • From one star to five: Reactions to Rusalka

From one star to five: Reactions to Rusalka

We've collected together reviews, tweets, blogs and videos of the controversial production by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito

This article has 5 comments

  1. C&N responded on 7 March 2012 at 12:37am Reply

    It is quite rare to be able to see Rusalka live, for that reason we were all the more disappointed. The staging had nothing to do with the pure, simple and powerful poesy of the story and music. It felt like a total betrayal and pure vandalism and vulgarity. We chose to "close our eyes" and only enjoy the music, which was brilliantly performed by the orchestra, the conductor and the singers. Overall a huge disappointment for something we were so much looking forward to.

  2. It's just the contrary. "Pure, simple, powerful poesy"? Certainly not. Dark story, awful things happening, sexual underscore, overall suffering, THIS is Dvorak's and Kvapil's Rusalka, nothing to do with Hänsel und Gretel.
    The problem of a lot of opera goers is that they don't reflect on what they see, beyond the first visual impression (no, I wouldn't decorate my home like Barbara Ehnes' sets, but that's not what they are made for). You can't do justice to such a complex work with a simple decorative setting.
    If you just want to listen to the music, you can go to concert performances.

  3. Arthur Wyatt responded on 8 March 2012 at 6:40pm Reply

    Rusalka, Romeo and Juliet, Etc
    I attended both the Ballet (Romeo and Juliet) and the Opera (Rusalka) yesterday.
    As a teacher one is made very aware of human behaviour. On the Internet it is all too easy to access pornography. Some watch, for entertainment Zoophilia, even human castration by force and actual beheadings or less extreme repetitive restricted code of popular culture. (examples not at the top of the Maslow Triangle explained below). One is made aware of:-
    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
    ‘Abraham Maslow developed a model of motivation based on needs, organized from the most basic physiological requirements, through emotional needs, and culminating in the need to develop one’s innate potential.

    The model is often depicted as a pyramid, with the baser needs at the bottom and the aesthetic needs at the peak. Maslow’s theory says our survival needs must be satisfied first. Only then are we motivated to fill our higher level needs.

    Maslow included five sets of goals, or basic needs, in his hierarchy. They are physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization.’

    I believe that the Royal Opera House in its entirety attempts to address the very peak of the Maslow Triangle.
    There are influences in our current society that do not have aims in this direction (why I gave examples above) and many members (a huge proportion) who do not recognise the value of your highest aims. Quote Jonathan Ross at a past BAFTA “This is one evening they won’t be able to put on an opera (laugh). There is a huge percentage of the population who do not appreciate opera and ballet (more than half?). Many others who ridicule both opera and ballet. Do we want to cater to their lack of appreciation or taste?
    Consider the following which can be applied to music, opera or ballet just as easily as language.
    Basil Bernstein made a significant contribution to the study of communication with his sociolinguistic theory of language codes. Within the broader category of language codes are elaborated and restricted codes. The term code, as defined by Stephen Littlejohn in Theories of Human Communication (2002), “refers to a set of organizing principles behind the language employed by members of a social group” (p. 178). Littlejohn (2002) suggests that Bernstein’s theory shows how the language people use in everyday conversation both reflects and shapes the assumptions of a certain social group. Furthermore, relationships established within the social group affect the way that group uses language, and the type of speech that is used.
    Restricted code does not often belong at the top of the Maslow triangle.
    One has to learn from somewhere to appreciate the most subtle art forms and that may involve experiencing the peripheral experiences – e,g, The countryside backdrops of Swan Lake, La Sylphide or Rusulka. The Elaborated code required to produce classical music often reflects these experiences or for instance in the case of Shostakovich’s war symphony the desperation on a cold winter’s misty morning or the snow scene in the Nutcracker. N.B. the feelings go together with the surrounding environment that exists at the time. These of course may or may not reflect nature but usually reflect something external to pure music. During my own lifetime I have seen attitudes change and even plays written for the 1950’s do not fit the current social situation. Changing the period of say a Mozart opera a little therefore does a little damage. Changing it a lot, considerable damage. I have a DVD of a Handel opera set with modern warfare. It is worrying to watch and the concern is that other great works will end up the same way if the audience do not speak out.
    Furthermore great art in the form of Ballet etc has a civilising effect and more importantly has no national or language barriers. Appreciation of such art forms bring people together.
    As far as explicit material is concerned, my view is that if it is a modern great work then this will not impinge on the property (intent) of those who created it in the first place. Introducing such material that did not exist in a work is violating the property of composer, choreographer, script writer etc.
    We come to last night’s opera (Rusalka). The producer tinkered with the setting with the excuse that he was making opera more accessible. What he was doing in fact was moving the setting from near the top of the Mazlow Triangle of audience perception to one further down to satisfy baser needs and taking away the visual effects that were in harmony with Dvorak’s intention.
    I was lucky enough to sit in the front row and talk to two of the musicians who agreed with me that a genuine performance was what was wanted and actually got the same message during the applause during the curtain call from more of them.
    The image of Anna Delvin in her underwear may be titillating or the Zoophilia example of a cat having it away with Rusalka close to breaking the law but this was not Dvorak’s aim. I complimented the orchestra on the way they fought back by producing the most magnificent sound. As the telegraph review stated ‘If you shut your eyes it was magnificent’.
    I spoke to several people most members of the audience concurred with my view. Only one thought the production was acceptable. Don’t kid yourself they were just cheering the orchestra and the singing. This feedback is accurate.
    If the producer thinks he can generate better then he should not tinker with magnificent works and write his / her own. On the ballet side Macmillan did just that by generating works either close to the original (Manon closer than the opera) or new (Mayerling). This is currently happening (recently with Alice and in the future with Titian 2012). What is noticeable about the Royal Ballet is that the dancers are continually striving to reach self-actualization. The regular audience actually love them because of this. They are renowned for being self-critical and not big-headed.
    Most of your audience want authenticity. So why alter as demand exceeds supply? Do you need to pollute your superlative productions and make them ‘accessible’ and for whom? I also met an American who subsequently looks like being a good friend. In his opinion visitors to this country expect, for instance, to see genuine Shakespeare. Not Romeo arriving on stage on a bicycle (as the RSC think is an improvement). Or a TV and motorboat in the Pearl Fishers (ENO). It is a serious issue if foreign visitors go home dissatisfied after having such an experience and share this bad news with their compatriots.
    The current bad press hopefully will keep productions on course. A reminder that the Royal Opera House should keep on track and continue to produce the very best. Its best is usually head and shoulders above all other entertainment in the country.
    I hope that the tinkering done by Jonathan Miller, Mathew Bourne and the rest is viewed as exploitation, not improvement and that the Royal Opera House resists the temptation to follow them and steers productions close towards true authenticity.

    I hope that my points are clear and convincing

    Subject: Rusalska Impressions

    Hello yyyyyy

    first of all I want to say what a pleasure it was to meet you and talk to you at the Opera on Saturday!
    I absolutely loved Romeo and Juliet. It is a great ballet and was wonderfully performed by the Royal Ballet.
    I'm actually planning to see it again three weeks from now, which is the next time that I am in London.

    Thank you for your two emails with the newspaper review and your own thoughts.
    I wish I could have seen a performance the way it was intended to by Dvorak before seeing this production.
    I knew this production would be a modern version, or re-interpretation, of the original, and I think
    these efforts even under the best of circumstances rarely succeed, but this piece was at times truly disgusting!
    I cannot believe that this is what Dvorak had in mind and probably is a gross distortion of his intent. It should not
    even be legal to use someone's work as a shell and then fill it with your own junk.
    What place does obscenity and vulgarity have in a place like the Royal Opera and what place does bestiality,
    or as in this case, the portrayal of bestiality have anywhere in a civilized society in general (or any society for that matter),
    and a distinguished venue for cultural events like the Opera House in particular? What was the point of it anyway?
    It's hard to understand that the Opera organization has allowed a vulgar, tasteless piece like this to be staged.
    If the intend was to make opera more accessible, then my question would be the same as yours: for whom and why?
    It is also a shame that some of these performers, like the one playing Rusalka probably had to be coerced to participate in a
    production like this.

    That aside though, the music was great, the voices were outstanding, and the orchestra played very well. For that alone, it
    was worth attending the performance.

    I have seen several events in the calendar that I want to try to attend in April and May: Rigoletto, La Boehme and maybe Falstaff.
    I see that all three productions will be performed on Saturdays, the day that I am usually in London. I'm looking forward to that,
    as well as a second attendance of Romeo and Juliet on March 24.

    Again, it was nice talking to you and I hope we can stay in touch!

    thank you for passing on those thoughts to the ROH administration. I intended to let them know my thoughts
    in roughly those words and I do hope this does get to the very top.
    You are right, I would frown on a performance with Romeo arriving on a bicycle.

    Subject: RE: Rusalska Impressions from a US visitor

    Hope ok that I am taking the liberty of sending your email on to those that matter at Covent Garden. The Director of the Royal Ballet and Susan Fisher - Head of Friends of Covent Garden. Just to let them know - you are an airline pilot from the US. I think the point is being driven home your views will reach the very top.

    As another example the RSC Royal (Ruined) Shakespeare Company put on Romeo and Juliet with Romeo arriving on a bicycle. As a visitor to this country this would not create a very good impression, wouldn't it?

    You come to see our culture at its very best. The Royal Opera House usually does just this.

    Will be in touch soon

    I hope that my points come out of this and that I have succeeded in illustrating why there is such a thing as ‘good taste’ by attempting to be analytical rather than subjective. My aim is to present such a strong case that people think twice in future about tinkering with great works.

  4. JJP responded on 9 March 2012 at 11:36pm Reply

    RUSALKA tonight was riveting. It's silly to suggest that the opera should be performed 'literally', i.e., with nymphs (or unconvincing approximations of nymphs) and fairies, etc. The role of a 'nymph' is not very removed from the role of prostitute...i.e., they both are expected to perform in certain ways with no question---so I applaud the director's decision to identify them as whores. Whores---my God---not in opera! If you feel that way you should be living in the seventeenth century, when opera really was un-developed. But it must have been a golden age, yes? But most opera before Wagner was not taken very seriously (Mozart excluded): the people who went to opera went to be seen by others in their class, that's what box seats were for. What was going on onstage was peripheral, a bit like London's music halls. Something very strange, methinks, is happening when you go to opera in 2012. Whether you're in the stalls or in the balcony, you're there to bear witness to an extraordinary effort of a company to bring to life the vision of a composer and librettist. In a sense such a thing has no function in society, but you would not think that if you experienced it.

  5. Gordon Turnbull responded on 15 March 2012 at 9:00pm Reply

    The Rusalka production team was booed. The Tristan production team was booed. The Lulu production team was booed. There are many other "creative" productions in the ROH repertoire that would have been booed were it not for the reluctance of the British public to appear impolite.

    What will it take to get the ROH management to wake up to the real world and realise that the rubbish their directors create to boost their own egos is not what the paying public want to see!

    A good traditional production goes on, with minor tweaks, for many years and is a good investment. Can ROH really afford to waste money on short run, unpopular productions?

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