Listen to Rusalka

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No one has adapted the “little mermaid” story more memorably than Antonín Dvořák in his glorious Rusalka. This score dazzles with its uniquely shimmering colors, soaring lyricism, and sumptuously beautiful orchestration. Whether you’re listening to the heroine’s justly celebrated “Song to the Moon,” the wood nymphs’ exquisite trios, the Water Sprite’s moving laments, or Rusalka’s devastating final duet with the prince, you’ll be drawn irresistibly to an opera that audiences and critics everywhere are finally recognizing as a masterpiece. With Ana Maria Martinez and Brandon Jovanovich heading the magnificent cast, thrillingly conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Rusalka is truly one of the greatest achievements in recent Lyric history.

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Act one

Wood nymphs are playing in the moonlight.  They call out to the water goblin Vodník, who is the water nymph Rusalka’s father. He emerges from the water and attempts to lure them to the bottom. The wood nymphs elude his grasp and tease him before running off. Rusalka emerges from the water and begs Vodník to listen to her. It shocks him that she is unhappy beneath the water, and that she longs to become human. She reminds him that he has told her of humans’ souls, and of how those souls rise to heaven after death. Rusalka has felt irresistibly drawn to a prince who has come to the lake to swim; she was invisible to him when she held him in her arms. Now she is desperate to be a woman, so that she can experience his love.

Although deeply distressed by Rusalka’s words, Vodník advises her to seek the help of Ježibaba, the forest witch. Rusalka appeals to the moon, begging to know where her beloved can be. Her calls bring Ježibaba from her cottage. The nymph praises the witch’s knowledge and offers everything she possesses, if only she can be transformed into a woman. Ježibaba presents two conditions: to become human, Rusalka must surrender her power of speech; and if she fails to find love, she will endure eternal damnation, as will her lover. Rusalka remains convinced that, once possessing a soul, she can conquer any obstacle. Ježibaba prepares a potion.

Dawn breaks and the sound of hunting horns draws near. A hunter is heard singing a folk-song about a white doe. The prince appears, pursuing the doe that has fled from him. He feels drawn to the lake. At the lakeside, Rusalka suddenly appears before him in human form and instantly captivates him. Although he woos her ardently she can say nothing in reply. Hearing her sister nymphs in the water lamenting her absence, she becomes frightened, but the prince calms her and leads her out of the forest.

Act two

In the kitchen of the prince’s palace, the kitchen boy encounters the gamekeeper and reports that the prince has found a strange young woman in the forest, and their wedding will happen soon. The prince’s beloved seems odd, however – she’s mute and wanders about as though in a daze. The gamekeeper feels she must be under some spell. The boy’s aunt has told him that another woman, a foreign princess, could possibly draw the prince away from his silent beloved.

Rusalka and the prince have been together for a week, yet she still perplexes him, and he believes she carries a secret. He wonders why Rusalka’s embrace seems so cold, and why it frightens her to yield to his passion. Observing the two is the foreign princess, who is enraged that she could lose the prince to another woman. Outwardly, however, she is imperious as she complains to the prince that he is neglecting his duties as host. Attempting to appease the princess, he tells Rusalka to ready herself for the ball that evening. The prince’s guests gather for the celebration.

Outside the palace Vodník rises from the water, lamenting that Rusalka’s desire to be human is futile. Rushing out of the palace, Rusalka sees Vodník and is suddenly able to speak. In despair because the prince has been lured away by a beautiful woman, Rusalka feels only half human and incapable of passion. The prince and princess emerge from the ball. She is delighted that Rusalka is nowhere to be seen, while he admits that, although he loved the young woman for a time, he now loves the princess. He attempts to make love to her, but she remains suspicious.

Rusalka suddenly rushes to embrace the prince, but he is terrified and rejects her. Vodník appears before the prince, proclaiming that he is cursed and will never escape Rusalka’s embrace. She and Vodník vanish. When the prince begs the princess to save him, she cruelly orders him to pursue his bride into hell. Having broken both the prince’s heart and Rusalka’s, she departs in triumph.

Act three

Rusalka wonders why she cannot die in the water. She is condemned to solitude, separated from her sisters and cursed by her beloved. Ježibaba sarcastically greets her, declaring that she can be saved only by the shedding of human blood. She asks her to swear that she will kill the prince, but Rusalka would rather suffer in despair for eternity. Ježibaba mocks her, and goes back into her cottage in disgust. Rusalka tries to dive back into the lake, but the other water nymphs declare that they have now rejected her. Instead, she must wander through the forests as a will-o’-the-wisp, luring men to their deaths with her kiss.

The gamekeeper orders the kitchen boy to ask Ježibaba what can be done about the prince. Being without Rusalka has left him raving and in despair. He tells Ježibaba that the prince has been bewitched by a sorceress, whom he was going to marry and that she disappeared after casting a spell on him. Vodník emerges from the water, and insists that it was the prince who betrayed Rusalka and cursed her. Terrified, the gamekeeper and kitchen boy rush away, and Vodník declares that he will have revenge. He returns to the lake as the laughing Ježibaba reenters her cottage.

The three wood nymphs gather. They tease Vodník again, wanting to play with him, but he is no longer in the mood for games, now that Rusalka has gone. He laments that the water has been sullied by man, yielding nothing but sadness. Now crazed with longing for Rusalka, the prince frantically searches for her. Suddenly she appears, now a will-o’- the-wisp.

When the prince asks if she can forgive him, she responds by wondering why he took her in his arms and lied to her. He begs her to kiss him, but she initially refuses, knowing that her kiss will kill him. But death from that kiss is his only desire, and when she finally kisses him, he collapses. Murmuring that her kiss has redeemed his sin, he dies peacefully. Vodník’s voice is heard, proclaiming that the prince’s death and Rusalka’s sacrifice are in vain. The nymph kisses her prince once more and, having asked for God’s mercy on his soul, she vanishes

Meet the artists

* Lyric Opera debut
*** Current Ryan Opera Center member

This new Lyric Opera production of Rusalka is generously made possible by

The Monument Trust

The Monument Trust

The Monument Trust


Sidley Austin LLP

with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lyric Opera Streaming On Demand is made possible through a generous gift from

Robert F. Finke

in Memory of Carol Keenan

Photos: Todd Rosenberg, Lyric Opera of Chicago