Festival Opera


Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE FOUNDERS of the Edinburgh International Festival would likely be disappointed to learn that the 75th annual event features just a single fully-staged production of opera, but surely delighted that that one show, which has two more performances on Monday and Tuesday, is as fine as Garsington’s new staging of Dvorak’s mystical masterpiece.

Sung in Czech, with Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw in the title role, the whole cast is of the highest vocal standard and the playing of the Philharmonia Orchestra in the pit - under the baton of the Buckinghamshire company’s Scots artistic director Douglas Boyd - is exemplary. Just as the performers onstage excel as soloists as well as in ensemble, the same is true of the players, with star turns on harp, horn and in the winds across the evening.

Directed by Jack Furness, who is now creating the promenade production of Candide for Scottish Opera that opens this week, this Rusalka is designed by Tom Piper with a vast tilting manhole cover marking the separation between the human and spirit worlds that the water nymph crosses between. That disc has a smaller aperture within it, through which a shaft of light shines for the score’s most famous music, her Song to the Moon.

Not only are the singers paddling in an onstage pool which reflects the moonlight, but the other water nymphs - Marlena Devoe, Heather Lowe and Stephanie Wake-Edwards - are partnered by half a dozen aerial artists and their work spills over into the choreography of the singing cast in a way that makes considerable performative demands of Romaniw and her colleagues. Presiding over this world, Musa Ngqungwana is an authoritative Vodnik and Christine Rice an articulate and rather scary witch Jezibaba, while Rusalka’s rival in the human world, Sky Ingram is just as threatening as the Foreign Princess.

True to the fairytale origins of Jaroslav Kvapil’s libretto, there is also an explicit feminist fable to be read in Rusalka as well as other political strands, and all of that is there for the finding in this staging, with its onstage butchery and reference to body dysmorphia. But crucially this is opera sounding sumptuous, with Romaniw absolutely at the top of her game, and looking utterly gorgeous from start to finish.

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