Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Still Waters Run Deep

March 23, 2009

How'd Renée get up in that tree?
Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera 2009

If Mary Zimmerman’s recent production of La Sonnambula for the Metropolitan Opera in New York was a slap in the audience's face, then their recent revival of Otto Schenk’s staging of Rusalka is not unlike being urinated on in public. And while some may not view this as entirely a bad thing, in this instance, it's not. Talk about kitsch. Dvorák’s dark and somber fairy-tale opera gets an overly whimsical treatment in this star vehicle for Renée Fleming. But star she does, in a work that started her career and has become her calling card. She’s toured this opera all over the world, and hearing it again with such a superb cast in this run under Jiri Belohlávek's baton is undoubtedly a wonder. Rusalka fits Fleming like a glove, creating the ideal environment for her warm, glowing voice. The supporting cast was no less worthy with Stephanie Blythe as Ježibaba and Aleksanders Antonenko as the Prince. Even Kristinn Sigmundsson is able to make quite a mark despite a ridiculous "Sigmund the Sea Monster" outfit.

Sadly, he is not alone in being burdened with a ridiculous costume in a sadly overreaching staging. The child-like aspects of the piece are thrust so front and center, it borders on the humorous. When the set becomes all about impressing the audience with architecture as it does here, you know you’re in trouble. Luckily, Fleming stays above much of the fray firmly keeping her performance in a mythical Melisande territory which is flattering to her. Otherwise Schenk has done little more than create his own Little Mermaid, complete with wicked witch and a handsome prince. Why he doesn’t believe in this piece as much as Fleming does, giving it’s darker elements full reign is a mystery. And seeing his revival, which is less than 20 years old, in the context of such great stagings as Robert Carsen’s for Paris National Opera is a crying shame. To have something so lovely as Fleming's performance wraped in something so miserable was exasperating.


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