Ecology and Czech Opera
Updated: Apr 6
Royal Opera House, London
My good friend, photographer and eco warrior, Eliska Sky and I went to see Czech opera by Antonin Dvorak Rusalka, featuring a tragic little mermaid, with a climate change bent in this 2023 new production.
"You’re like a vision from old fairytales,” sings the Prince to Rusalka, the doomed water-spirit heroine of Dvorak’s opera. Much in this new production by Ann Yee and Natalie Abrahami is a vision from an old opera house – in a good way. The old-fashioned feel starts with a beautifully realised aerial ballet of the Prince swimming into Rusalka’s arms and continues once the lights go up with Chloe Lamford’s sets, grand and opulent to match the richly textured orchestral playing that the conductor Semyon Bychkov is conjuring up in the pit."
"So far, so old-school – yet some of the visual opulence is unashamed stage trickery. For Yee and Abrahami, Rusalka is about humanity versus nature, the despoiling of natural beauty by human carelessness. Their previous work together has been ecologically conscious, and that continues here: you can be impressed by the lushness of the hanging fronds around Rusalka’s lake without guessing that they are made from metres of the wardrobe department’s old offcuts.
Annemarie Woods’s costumes have a dressing-up-box feel, with wood spirits covered in mossy clumps and with Alexei Isaev’s Vodnik entering like Lucius Malfoy dressed by Issey Miyake. Rusalka similarly wears a translucent cape, pleated from neck to toe. But as they move and the fabric catches the last-ray-before-sunset glow of Paule Constable’s lighting, we realise that they are not merely fairytale creatures emerging from the water: they are the water itself."
The curtain call is the only time when the audience can take photographs for at an ROH production (center). The set reminds me of my small pond in Scotland with my installation of fishing buoys showing how climate change changes the environment.
Here is a clip from Rusalka opera sang by Eduard Haken as Vodnik.