San Francisco Opera brought back Dvořák’s masterpiece “Rusalka” for the first time since 1995 and the second time in its history Sunday afternoon, with an outstanding cast that rose above the mistiness of the woodsy, watery and supernatural world of David McVicar’s enchanting production new to SFO.
Leah Hausman directs this revival of McVicar’s Lyric Opera of Chicago production of “Rusalka,” which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s “Undine.” It begins with sonorous soprano Natalie Image and mezzo-sopranos Simone McIntosh and Ashley Dixon as wood nymphs gamboling in an eerie forest whose mystical lake bubbles over with thick vapors and strange denizens.
Among those lake dwellers, the powerful bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as the water goblin Vodnik soon emerges and, befitting a Father’s Day opening performance, resonantly offers father-knows-best advice tinged with sadness to his restless, lovestruck daughter, water nymph Rusalka. He touchingly urges Rusalka to stay, but reluctantly suggests she consult a witch to find love, and later achingly laments the consequences of her decision to quit their liquid realm.
Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen brought a sumptuous voice and willowy stage presence to her role debut as Rusalka, who tells her father she is captivated by a handsome prince she has seen swimming in the lake and wishes to become mortal to experience the bliss of romance with him. Willis-Sørensen’s gorgeous rendition of Rusalka’s Act 1 showpiece soliloquy “Song to the Moon” offered a dreamy taste of a voice about to be silenced by witchcraft.
As the witch Jezibaba, the dynamic mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton cast a spell on Rusalka that made her a human the prince would notice and fall in love with, but with the downsides that she becomes mute to mortals and their union will end in tragedy should he be unfaithful to her. Barton vocally soared and was spellbinding in her spooky aria “Cury mury fuk” (“Abracadabra”) as she concocted the potion that transformed Rusalka into a double-edged bearer of love.
Appealing tenor Brandon Jovanovich cut a debonair figure as the Rusalka’s heartthrob, the Prince. As soon as Jezibaba’s potion takes effect, Rusalka wins the Prince’s affection; Jovanovich serenades her with a warm voice of passion and beauty. That ardor ebbs as Rusalka’s muteness wears thin on the Prince and a foreign princess (soprano Sarah Cambidge) charms him at his castle in Act 2, but his and Rusalka’s love reignited with an exquisite, yet tragic, final duet in Act 3.
Making her SFO debut, Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim offered a sample of her talent with a lovely account of the Act 1 prelude, and then luminously proceeded through the rest of Dvorak’s score.
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 19, June 22, June 25 and June 28
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com