Antonin Dvořák’s rarely seen lyrical fairy tale for adults, Rusalka, is performed for the first time by Scottish Opera and for only the second time ever in Scotland, and it has been absolutely well worth the wait.
Intertwining the human world with an unearthly realm, Rusalka, a water nymph, longs to be human so she can win the love of the Prince who comes to bathe in the waters where she lives. Rusalka strikes a deal with the witch Ježibaba, who grants her wish but as with all true fairy tales, wishes come at a price.
The libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil is Czech to its core, written at the height of his powers, inspired by the fairy tales of Erben and Nemcova, as well as Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqués Undine, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest European libretti and here under the baton of newly appointed Music Director Stuart Stratford, it truly has the power to move.
This production from Antony McDonald originates from Grange Park Opera in 2008 and sets the story firmly in the fairy tale realm. The atmospheric staging is filled with visual delights and changes from eerie forest glade to below stairs and the ballroom of the palace with aplomb. Lucy Burge’s innovative choreography compliments the production beautifully and its originality and humour are a treat.
The performances across the piece are universally deserving of praise: Anne Sophie Duprels’ Rusalka moves eloquently through all three stages of the character: other-wordly creature, mute human and exiled spirit. Sir Willard White delivers a show of strength as Vodník, Rusalka’s father, Peter Wedd is a solid Prince, Leah-Marian Jones’ is a gleefully evil Ježibaba and Natalya Romaniw is an eye and ear-catching foreign princess.
A five-star production in every way from Scottish Opera, catch it in Glasgow at the Theatre Royal on April 7th and 9th and at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on April 14th and 16th 2016.
Leading Scottish tenor Nicky Spence is an ENO Harwood Artist who trained at the Guildhall School and the National Opera Studio. Following significant success in the British Opera houses including his acclaimed portrayal in the lead role of Brian in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at the London Coliseum in 2011, he will make his Metropolitan Opera debut in New York in the same production in 2013. Nicky is recognised as one of the UK’s finest young singers and is increasingly in demand internationally. He is an ambassador for Age UK and the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to talk to this rising star in a rare break in his hectic schedule.
Can we go back to your beginnings, tell me a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a classical singer?
I used to sing everything from Whitney Houston and Tom Jones to The Mamas and Papas; whatever was in the record collection when I was a kid. Then someone gave me a ticket to see The Magic Flute when I was 15, a neighbour had a spare ticket, I went and a love affair began. From there, my music teacher thought that I had the potential to be more of a classical singer and said that it would be a shame to let my voice go to waste, so I had singing lessons from the age of 16. I applied for the Guildhall School in London, got in, and went to study there when I was 17.
You are currently in rehearsal for The Flying Dutchman with Scottish Opera; tell us about your role and how rehearsals are going?
The rehearsals are going really well – I am literally about to get onto the ship as it were! I’m playing the young Steersman who I suppose is the token young tenor who falls in love – he’s the voice of youth and inexperience, which I often am onstage! The Flying Dutchman is an epic piece, a tale of unrequited love and destiny and I’m looking forward to performing in it.
What has been your favourite role to play so far in your career?
So far I’d say it was probably Lampwick in The Adventures of Pinocchio with Opera North as I got to be a twelve year old and have fun, it gave me license to be really naughty. I enjoyed Tom Rakewell in The Rake’s Progress because of the dramatic arc I had and Tamino in The Magic Flute with Scottish Opera last year.
I’d love to play Tom Rakewell again and Albert Herring. There are things I need to do before I get too old, too bald or too fat! I’d love to get those under my belt.
You’ve recently released your debut recital recording, As You Like It – Shakespeare Songs; can you tell us a bit more about how you came to choose this particular material to record?
I thought Shakespeare was a great source, like Robert Burns, Shakespeare was a bawdy bard – with twelve suicides in his plays there was plenty of room for melancholy as well, and at our fingertips was about 400 years of song settings to work with. It was a massive field to look into and hopefully I’ve chosen some interesting bits to listen to. It’s also in English, so for my first recital recording it was nice to have that immediacy with my audience.
You’ve just completed a tour with Scottish Opera to the farthest reaches of Scotland, spreading the word about opera – how was that experience, it looked like you had a great rapport on stage.
We had such fun; it was great, just super. It was also great to see the audience reaction at such close quarters, but it was really hard work travelling to all those remote places. I also think it is really important from the point of view of bringing opera to those who wouldn’t have the chance to see it or to those who don’t know very much about it. It’s especially effective in fulfilling Scottish Opera’s aim of have opera no more than thirty miles from anyone in the country.
What other highlights do you have coming up this year?
After The Flying Dutchman it’s back down to London to do some work with the ENO, after that I make my debut with Grange Park Opera in Dialogues des Carmélites then it’s off to New Zealand to play Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni then I’m making my debut at The Met in New York with the role of Brian in Nico Muhly’s Two Boys which I created at the ENO. I’m really looking forward to playing him again, especially as he’s so different to myself.
Finally what composers works would you recommend to encourage people to get into opera?
Tosca is a great one, from the first chord there’s drama and it’s really accessible, La bohème is a great one, Puccini has a way of really manipulating the listener’s heart, it’s a great place to start and Marriage of Figaro is great too.