We were late comers to get tickets to the sold out opera, but in the end that turned out to be the best thing that happened. We’re tag-teaming this post, so strap in for a he said/she said! Becky’s sections are in italics.
There were still tickets to Taste of Opera for the Minnesota Opera production of “Rusalka.” This event combines awesome seats with a dinner and coach bus ride into downtown St. Paul. All for a super reasonable price (Yes, imagine me saying that in a Fargo accent).
Becky here. Of course Joel doesn’t mention the best part of the Taste of Opera right off the bat. It’s more than a meal and seats. It was so much more than that. We had special guests who spoke as we sipped on wine and coffee.
Our evening began at 5 p.m. at the University Club on Summit Avenue, which is where I imagine people with “the third” attached to their names go to play croquet and swim judging by the pictures in the place. It’s pretty swank, at least the part we were able to access. We were earlier than most and took our seats. Due to the law of Joel, no one sat by us until every other seat in the place was taken. It’s a weird thing I’ve notice for a long time about me.
Joel has this obsession of noticing when people are not sitting with us at a table. He doesn’t notice that the remainder of the people are a good 20-30 years our senior, or somehow related to each other because they are all hugging. Personally I enjoy it when we don’t have anyone sit next to us at a table because of one incident when my husband knocked over a water glass on my salad and me. Fortunately, I was able to just switch out the salad with the empty seat. This night there were no spills.
It’s rather surprising I didn’t knock over my old fashioned, glass of wine or glass of water actually, cause there were some amazing ceilings to distract us.
Anyway, dinner was a mixed green salad, butternut squash ravioli for Becky and marinated chicken for me, then flourless chocolate truffle cake for desert. As we finished eating, classical MPR’s Melissa Ousley interviewed the opera’s artistic director Dale Johnson and choreographer Heidi Spesard-Noble for a delightful talk about the opera ahead, the dancing, and what to look for on stage.
No offense to Mr. Johnson, but I found Ms. Spesard-Noble incredibly intriguing. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I think it began with the sheer number of jobs she had during the day – teaching at the Breck school and this and that. Much like an academic, a choreographer has to cobble jobs together to survive. Seeing myself in her and realizing how exhausted she is fascinated me.
I was on the dance team in high school. Technically, anyone can dance but only a lone few can choreograph. I have never seen a professional choreographer in person, then witness her work. She described her process for this production as an open call for dancers who haven’t participated with the MN Opera before. She gave chances to people to dance across that dream Ordway stage that they may not otherwise have had. She spoke about the costumes and working with the singers in combination with the dancers and how she used different types of dancing to separate the three acts to help illuminate what Rob Ainsley, head of music, states as the three different natural landscapes. (Plus they had to dance on a stage that was a five foot ramp front to back! – Joel) A question came from the audience something like how do you practice or get your ideas, the answer made her so human — this woman, who has this art and movement inside of her, dances in her living room with her cats to begin finding the musical phrases while video taping herself to see if what she’s come up with works. As an archivist and researcher, I do hope she saves some of those tapes, because the side-by-side video would be fascinating for someone writing about her life and her art.
After dinner, we gathered our coats and headed out to the bus that took us right to the Ordway.
Our seats were fantastic! Usually, we are up in the back of the top balcony, but this night we were right down on first floor, but far enough back that it wasn’t a hassle to look up for the English translations.
Do you know what happens when you sit on the first floor instead of up in the atmosphere? When you go to the bathroom, you run into people. Famous people in your world. I’m not good at being a fan girl. I’m actually quite horrific at it. So when Adam Kuenzel was getting a drink and I bumped him while trying to visit the ladies room, I returned to my seat and told my husband, Oh My God, I just ran into the flute player from the Minnesota Orchestra. My husband asked what I said to him. I said, nothing, deer in headlights. Fortunately, later on, I was sitting on a bench waiting to get our checked coats, and Adam was standing next to me. All I said was, “Do you get recognized often?” I don’t even know if I said the word “often” correctly. He smiled at me, perhaps feeling so sorry for the fan girl, threw me a bone and said “sometimes, by fans of the orchestra.” I stood up and said, “Yes, we spoke to you at my husband’s first orchestra concert.” He said, “Oh, he wrote the blog.” I said “yes, that was us!” I shook his hand, but never said how every time we go to the orchestra we look for him and that his talent and art has meant a lot in our Midwestern lives. We’ll see the orchestra again this Friday!
Rusalka is a Czech version of The Little Mermaid, but with the kickassest of dreadlocks you’ve ever seen, and way more depressing.
In the first act, Rusalka falls for the human who can’t see her. She gives up her voice for land legs. They meet, end of act.
In act two, we jump ahead to right before the wedding, because really, who wants to watch anything romantic happening, right? No need for any interludes with fish and a crab serenading the couple. Let’s just go right to the gross, cold human world. Rusalka can’t dance, she can’t talk. The prince is already regretting his decision and treating her like shit. She leaves to return to the natural world, where she is now shunned by her former fellow magical creatures since she’s been tainted by the human world.
In act three, the prince, who changes his mind AGAIN (men!), seeks Rusalka, who is now in charge of luring humans to their death at the bottom of a lake. He willingly lets her kiss him to death because why not let her have that memory of how she killed her only love forever, right? Hello, metaphor for how little humans care about effects on nature. Rusalka returns to her post as death’s helper in the lake.
Yeah, so pretty depressing and rather messy plot-wise. I naturally focus on plot as a writer, but it’s not the biggest reason to go to the Opera. The dancing, costumes, set, music, singing, all added up to a fantastic show. Rusalka and her father, the water-goblin, were stupendous in their roles. The set used projection to quickly change scenes and add to the mood of the pieces. Add to that being able to look over Rice Park at night during the intermissions, and we had an amazing time.
I don’t understand why it always feels like Joel and I are going to separate events. We don’t need to see them fall in love because she has enough love for the both of them: she’s willing to give up her family, the life she knows, and her world to be with him. Her father warned her she would not be able to see her sisters. She knew what she was getting into. One of my favorite scenes in act one is how close Rusalka is to the prince and how she’s even almost touching him, which highlights the separation between the seen and unseen world. As human beings we are blind or skeptical to the possibility of something existing in the unseen. Which is why she has to go to the witch. The witch warns Rusalka exactly what’s going to happen. Rusalka begs her anyway to do the spell. Finally the witch, who is of the human world, but is aware of the worlds in the unseen, provides her with this potion, aware of the devastation that it will cause. There was no tricking, cackling, there was a clear choice.
Having only experienced a world of natural elements and beauty and the way nature acts within itself, she had no idea how dark the human world could possibly be. In the opera, the only interaction we see with the prince and nature is him treating it as an adversary, something to be conquered and hunted. In act two, he is such a MAN because he is far more worried about how it looks that she is not of proper breeding and more importantly that she will not consummate the marriage because, according to him, she didn’t have the passion. The audience understands that human passion is impossible for her to achieve, and she is to be pitied. He wouldn’t have her because she couldn’t be fully with him and left her to be rescued by her father.
In act three the witch approaches her with a knife. Again, the witch gives her an option to return to the sea and life she understands by killing her prince. Now, I am and will always be, “hell hath no fury,” when it comes to men who betray me, but not Rusalka. Instead, her natural side forces her to not have the human reaction of fury, and she does not take the knife even though by doing so she gives up her only chance to return to her sisters. Rusalka chooses instead to end up as Joel described — a lure to humans to die. She speaks a similar choice to her prince and warn him, much like the witch did. He chooses his own death because he is human and unable to control human emotions such as lust and fury disguised as “love.” I do not feel that this opera is about “the Little Mermaid” or “the grass is always greener,” “avoid witches.” There’s one line in the opera that I remember distinctly sung by the father figure, that humans pollute the water. I agree with the assessment that this is how humans react to the natural world, but also to how amazing it must be to be able to live and see the magical world. How important it is for us to acknowledge the magic that is the nature of a tree that opens its arms to human kind.
Taste of the Opera is definitely worth looking into for a romantic evening of escape for 6 hours of food and fantasy.