Glyndebourne launched its 2012 Tour on Saturday night, with a performance of Melly Still’s 2009 production which was then much admired, and now fell like sweet balm upon the eye after the irrelevance of last week’s ENO Julius Caesar. If you are new to opera, or you know someone who is, don’t send them to the Coliseum to be baffled by cork-tiled walls, plastic chairs and eviscerated crocodiles: encourage them to get past that scary term ‘Glyndebourne’ and go along to whichever is the nearest to them of Woking, Norwich, Wimbledon, Plymouth, Canterbury, Milton Keynes or Stoke-on-Trent, to enjoy a beautiful, profoundly musical evening which could serve as a demonstration of how to stage an opera. They’ll get a great seat for around £50, a decent one for around £20.
No one who saw David Pountney’s 1983 Rusalka could possibly forget it, but this was a totally different yet equally valid interpretation. You don’t need Freudian darkness to feel scared by the forces of nature around you, or indeed the forces within you. The two opposing groups of Nymphs — wood and water, were here brilliantly delineated by the crackly-skirted, lusty denizens of the trees and the ethereal, aloof dwellers in the deep, and the humans were equally vividly drawn, from the wonderfully fashion-victim dresses to the dubious passion of the Prince. There were so many stage pictures where one wanted to cheer — Vodnik swimming away, the kitchen frozen in its preparations, the Foreign Princess waiting to pounce… all poetically lit by Paule Constable and beautifully designed by Rae Smith. As for the dancing, Rick Nodine and Christian From could show the director of the current ENO show, a thing or two — every movement here was integrated into the whole, every gesture was fitting, not one detracted from the music.
And what beautiful music it is when played and sung like this. Jakub Hrůša clearly has it in his veins, and he drew from the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra the kind of lyrical, devoted playing which should be every composer’s right in the opera house. Jeremy Bines had done his by-now customary superb job with the chorus — how snarky those water-sisters sounded, and how vicious those wood-nymphs. There was not one weakness amongst the principals, either: Natasha Jouhl was a feisty, sympathetic Rusalka, singing with suppleness of line and negotiating the production’s many challenges with aplomb, and Peter Berger almost made you like the Prince, with his ardent, heroic tone and passionate delivery. Mischa Schelomianski sang his second act aria with fluent legato and presented a completely credible character as both father and water sprite, and it would be hard to imagine a more convincing Ježibaba than Anne Mason. The bearded ‘witches’ were great too.
Tatiana Pavlovskaya was a regal Foreign Princess, as statuesque of bearing as she was striking of voice, John Mackenzie-Lavansch sang a warmly focused Hunter, Eliana Pretorian revealed a very promising soprano as the Kitchen Girl, and the three principal Wood Nymphs were finely characterized and confidently sung. A genuine frisson went around the audience when their bloodied jaws were revealed — one of many astutely directed moments, with no need for crocodiles or giraffes to point up the music’s message. A great Glyndebourne evening.
For a list of tour dates, please see: glyndebourne-tour-2012.