gaiety theatre, dublin
With the dearth of grand opera in Dublin, two back-to-back presentations seem like manna from heaven.
Thanks to Lyric Opera, Dvorak's Rusalka comes to the Gaiety stage 112 years after its Prague premiere, while Wide Open Opera brings the first performance of Raymond Deane's The Alma Fetish, against a backdrop of Pauline Bewick visuals, to the National Concert Hall.
Without a happy-ever-after ending, Dvorak's work is still fairytale fantasy, even if water sprite-turned-human Rusalka (pictured) and her nameless Prince are doomed from the start of their curious liaison.
Hints of Wagner run through Dvorak's continuously expressive score, not least in evocative horns, but more obviously in recurring themes identifying his various characters.
Act II may flag a little as the 'supernatural' gives way to the 'real' world but, never mind, Dvorak's music retains its captivating beauty.
Paul O'Mahony's two- and sometimes three-level design has ingenious touches – although his high-walled set creates a cramped claustrophobic effect.
Emma Williams's costumes have a timeless quality, as witch Jezibaba and attendant nymphs display voluminous layers against curvaceous Rusalka's slim-line raiment. Only water goblin Vodnik's dungarees look ill-fitting.
Director Vivian Coates casts his opera rather well, with Natasha Jouhl a firm and resolute Rusalka who is not without seductive and emotional tenderness. However, singing her exquisite 'Song to the Moon' from a recumbent posture against the background of Andrew Kerr's somewhat cloudy lighting is one of the production's lapses.
Covering the challenges of his role with refinement and flexibility, Jeff Gwaltney is the imposing Prince, with Imelda Drumm the formidably dark-voiced Jezibaba. Gabriela Istoc makes a suitably cold and calculating Foreign Princess while Richard Wiegold's dry tone favours Vodnik's stern prophesies rather than his genuine concern for Rusalka's welfare.
Conductor David T Heusel treats Dvorak's score with loving care and Lyric Opera Chorus with the Wexford Festival Orchestra, after some initial uncertainty, are enthusiastically responsive to his direction.
The torrid affair between Mahler's widow, Alma, and artist Oskar Kokoschka achieves striking realism in Deane's powerfully dramatic score. Majella Cullagh and Leigh Melrose are the infatuated protagonists as the confident hand of Fergus Sheil guides them through the composer's mesmeric maze. A triumph for all concerned.