Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

DVOŘÁK: Rusalka

spacer Nylund, Magee, Remmert; Beczala, Held; Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Cleveland Orchestra, Welser-Möst. 
No libretto. Orfeo C 792 113 D (3)

RusalkaCD

It's rare to hear a major American symphony orchestra in the opera pit, so the Cleveland Orchestra's participation in this 2008 Salzburg Festival performance automatically claims, and rewards, attention. Veterans may grumble over the loss of George Szell's martinet discipline, but Cleveland remains a first-class, technically adroit ensemble. String-based sonorities have a translucent shimmer here; woodwinds, individually and as a group, are by turns caressing and characterful; the brass choir blazes thrillingly in the climaxes. In the opening scenes of Acts I and II, perhaps, wind motifs register a bit too assertively — a matter less of dynamics than of demeanor — reflecting the orchestra's normal symphonic role. In each instance, however, the players adjust the textures when the voices enter, displaying a fine sensitivity. 

The cast is strong. Camilla Nylund's spinning, vibrant Rusalka will be a nice change of pace for those accustomed to the creamy tones of Renée Fleming's heroine, at the Met and on the Decca recording. Nylund's narratives are simple and direct, without sacrificing her easy, liquid legato. In the "Song to the Moon," her firm rhythmic energy propels the second refrain, to excellent effect. Her top notes are inconsistent — unsettled, even a bit wild, after her long silence in Act II, cautious or reined-in elsewhere. When she can let them open out over the orchestra, however, they are full and luscious. Nylund is especially good at differentiating the more reflective moments, whether prayerful or pleading, and she intones the soft phrases cleanly.

Piotr Beczala's clear, ringy lyric tenor ideally suits the Prince. He's an ardent suitor for Rusalka in Act I; he begins his Act II narrative with real regret, and it blossoms nicely as the music picks up in impulse. He lets the energy level get almost too low, though, in the quieter bits of Act III.

Turning to the lower-voiced principals, Birgit Remmert's compact voice, incisive phrasing and secure top make for a vivid, imposing Ježibaba. Alan Held takes time to warm up — the upper notes sound a bit rough at first — but settles into a clear, firm legato, a pleasing contrast with the usual wobbly Water Sprite. He sits a bit heavily on the waltzlike rhythms of Act II, and in the final scenes he reverts to a stiff, stentorian manner.

Emily Magee is a lively Foreign Princess, though she doesn't entirely avoid whooping. The smaller roles are plausibly taken, though it's odd that Adam Piachetka, a Czech, should inflect the Gamekeeper so squarely. Anna Prohaska, the First Water Nymph, traces her legato lines gently in Act III, but the chords for the three nymphs aren't always dead in tune.

Franz Welser-Möst has grown into a thoughtful, intelligent interpreter. The lyric passages have a natural flow that accommodates the singers, while the faster, more ominous ones have a nice drive, even if Remmert has some trouble keeping up in parts of her Act I solo. Welser-Möst doesn't quite muster the authentic Czech "accent," but he shapes phrases expressively, with an excellent feel for textural and rhythmic detail. In Ježibaba's incantation, the woodwinds ease gracefully into the waltz section — indeed, all the score's waltzes and near-waltzes have an easy swing. The interplay between Rusalka and the liquid woodwinds in Act III is lovely. Sectional transitions sound smooth and logical, and the various orchestral interludes are intensely colored.

The recording is colorful and deep, though it brings the customary quota of clomps, clicks and other stage-performance noises. spacer

STEPHEN FRANCIS VASTA

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6