Major Operas | Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák | Turn of the Century
Premiered: 1901, Prague
Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil after Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine
Rusalka, a water nymph, has fallen in love with a prince. She longs to leave the water and acquire human form. Vodník, a water spirit, tells her that Ježibaba the witch can grant her every human power except speech. If the prince rejects her, however, she will be forever an outcast between earth and water, and he will be damned. Ježibaba casts the spell. The prince is drawn to the water and sees Rusalka. Although she cannot speak he falls in love.
Preparations are made for the wedding. A gamekeeper and a kitchen boy fear that the mysterious girl has bewitched the prince. He has grown tired of Rusalka’s silence and timidity and is increasingly interested in the foreign princess, who taunts Rusalka. In despair she calls on Vodník, who urges her to try to win him back. Seeing the prince embrace the foreign princess, she breaks in but is thrust away. Vodník drags Rusalka back to the water and the princess rejects the prince.
Even Rusalka’s sisters reject her. Ježibaba tells her she can break the spell by killing the prince. The gamekeeper and kitchen boy ask Ježibaba to heal the prince, who has fallen ill. Vodník declares he will have vengeance on mankind and tells the wood nymphs of Rusalka’s fate. The prince comes looking for Rusalka and recognizes where he first saw her. She warns him, although she still loves him, that he would die if he were to kiss her now that she is once more a water spirit. He begs her to take his life away with a kiss. He dies contented in her love and she returns to the waters.
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