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Fleming and Beczala reign supreme

New York
The Metropolitan Opera House
01/23/2014 -  & January 27, 31, February 4, 8, 12, 15, 2014
Antonín Dvorák: Rusalka, opus 114
Renée Fleming (Rusalka), Piotr Beczala (The Prince), John Relyea (Water Gnome), Dolora Zajick (Jezibaba), Emily Magee (Foreign Princess)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (chorus master), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)
Otto Schenk (production), Gunther Schneider-Siemssen (set designer), Sylvia Strahammer (costume designer), Gil Wechsler (lighting designer)

R. Fleming (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)

The title role in Dvorák's Rusalka has become intimately associated with the reigning diva Renée Fleming. Hearing her live has become nearly a surreal experience, a Parnassus of the operatic world now made all the more acute by the soprano's invitation to sing the National Anthem at this year's Superbowl (a first for an opera singer) on February 2. Fleming, herself of Czech origin, has publicly declared her wish for Rusalka to be her signature role, and indeed she did not disappoint. The sumptuous "Song to the Moon," the Act I aria in which Rusalka begs the lustrous moon to tell the handsome prince of her love, came off with sparkling lines that danced like moonlight itself over the grateful audience. One should well remember that it was this piece that Fleming credits with building her career - she sang it as her Met National Council Auditions contribution as long ago as 1988. Here and in the Act III aria, however, the voice betrays some signs of age. Some, but not too many, of the low and middle register notes sounded muted or swallowed in the cavernous Met. Nevertheless, the triumph continues and Fleming certainly scored one in last night's revival opening.

She was fortunate to have as her prince the star tenor Piotr Beczala. Beczala, who opened La Scala this season to much acclaim, brought a bright, clarion sound to the role that lacked nothing in drive and power. The portrayal, by turns triumphant and despairing, was solid and effecting. The achingly beautiful final duet, in which the lovers part into eternity, could not have unfolded in better voice.

John Relyea's Wood Gnome was authoritative and matched well with veteran mezzo Dolora Zajick's Jezibaba. Emily Magee debuted as the Foreign Princess, who diverts the prince's affections only to spurn him when she realizes how easily won they were. The vocal effort was underwhelming, but the characterization not all too terrible.

The orchestra resonated with an uncommon intensity under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, though at times Dvorák's driving late romantic score may have been too loud to coordinate in the best way with the principals. Avid fans unable to come to New York may judge for themselves in the February 8 HD telecast, available in movie theatres all over the world.

Paul du Quenoy



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