Fathers and Daughters


The Bolshoi had never staged Dvořák’s operas before. Only in the beginning of XXI century the name of the acknowledged composer has appeared on the theatre’s posters. We begin our acquaintance with his most popular piece — opera Rusalka. It’s wonderful in its own way: although the Bolshoi and Rusalka have been waiting for each other nearly a hundred and twenty years, but now they are bound together with the strict guidance of the most promising opera directors – Timofei Kulyabin.

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Timofei Kulyabin (Stage Director), Ilya Kukharenko (Opera Dramaturge).

Timofei Kulyabin: Maybe I’m partial towards Rusalka, but I think that’s good. First, there is a lot of beauty in this music, I mean, the adequacy between the plot and the music. This is a very convincing score, which doesn’t simply entertain you with Dvořák’s beautiful melodies, but also makes you believe in the emotions of the characters on stage. And they are obsessed with romantic, naïve motivations: Rusalka wants to have an eternal soul, to escape from her mysterious world to the world of humans… I am especially fascinated by that romantic-idealistic world, because I live in a very different one, my reality is very pragmatic.

Of course, it is a challenge to tell a contemporary story (and my stagings are always about our contemporaries) about quite fairy-tale characters: a Water Spirit, Jezibaba, forest nymphs, water nymphs, etc. And they all should turn to be moderns in my staging. I must say that I am not the first one: over the past 30 years, David Pountney, Robert Carsen, Martin Kušej, Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, Stefan Herheim put Rusalka in unusual circumstances. The plot of the opera almost always provokes reflections on social conflicts: poor/rich, invaders/ oppressed, title nation/migrants and so on; or an analogy with the boundaries between consciousness/subconscious, social norms/secret desires, dreams/reality. It was interesting for me to work on a solution which would maintain the magical nature and the urgency of social drama.

Besides, there are many questions about how the main characters are written. The Water Sprite is the key character in this opera! However, except one beautiful but static aria in the second act, he sings only one line: ‘Poor, miserable Rusalka! Woe, woe!’ But each time he says that in the most crucial moments. Obvious, that the Water Sprite is the key character of the opera, though painted with only one colour. And it was very important to develop his line convincingly, to make him equal with Rusalka: while rehearsals I realized that this is not a story about Rusalka and the Prince, but the story about Rusalka and her father.

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Ekaterina Morozova (Rusalka), Denis Makarov (The Water Sprite).

The next question is about Rusalka herself. From the first to the last word in this opera the main heroine is doomed. Despite the fantastically beautiful music and all the hardships: she goes through the accusation of her fellows, the transformation, the betrayal, the curse, the final redemption, and the acquisition of the soul. She is always suffering: her father doesn’t understand her, the Prince doesn’t love her in a proper way and eventually breaks up with her, and then she's suffering because of her curse. She is a victim of circumstance, lives under constant stress and that makes her very static. I wanted Rusalka to be always different, I wanted her character to change drastically in each act. As a result, we have three very different acts. And they differ not only in scenery, different realities, or acting – Rusalka herself is very different in each act.

Rusalka is the second production directed by Timofei Kulyabin at the Bolshoi Theatre. The first one was Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti, which formed the great production team: they are set designer Oleg Golovko, costume designer Galya Solodovnikova, opera dramaturge Ilya Kukharenko. Now they gather again for breathing life into Rusalka. The conductor of the production is Ainārs Rubiķis (who took up his position as Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin at the start of the 2018/19 season).

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Ainārs Rubiķis (Conductor). Photos by Damir Yusupov.

On the premiere shows the main roles will be performed by the leading soloists of the Bolshoi Opera. Hungarian bass-baritone Miklós Sebestyén will sing Water Sprite’s part.