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BWW Review: RUSALKA at Des Moines Metro Opera and Iowa PBS: A Journey to the Depths of the Sea and Back.

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BWW Review: RUSALKA at Des Moines Metro Opera and Iowa PBS: A Journey to the Depths of the Sea and Back.
Sara Gartland as Rusalka
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Last week Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) and Iowa Public Broadcasting Service started the 2020 Virtual Opera season with a stunning airing of "Manon." The decision to go virtual this season was due to the continuing COVID crisis. They continue their summer season this week with their 2018 production of Antonin Dvořák's "Rusalka," which I had the opportunity to usher during the 2018 season.

"Rusalka" tells the story of the title character, who is a water nymph that has fallen in love with a prince and longs to be human so she can be with him. Her father, Vodník, tries to convince her to stay a water nymph, but Rusalka has already made up her mind. She visits the sea witch Ježibaba and finds to turn human; she has to give up her voice. After giving up her voice, when the prince finds Rusalka, he falls in love with her and takes her to stay with him. At the end of Act 1, it appears as though they will live happily ever after, but this is not your typical fairy tale. Has Rusalka made the right choice to become human, or will she long to go back to the water?

BWW Review: RUSALKA at Des Moines Metro Opera and Iowa PBS: A Journey to the Depths of the Sea and Back.
Zachary James as Vodník
Photo by Duane Tinkey

What I find so compelling about this production is that I still remember walking into the theatre and finding myself in awe of the Jacob A. Climber's beautiful scenic ad costume designs. Before watching "Rusalka" again, I was excited to see the beautiful blue and white painted set again. While this production captured the beauty of this complex set, I missed being able to see the floating furniture that hung from the rafters, and THE MIST in the air during Act 1 that gave the audience the feeling that they were underwater. Climer's costumes are equally as stunning as the set. The use of wood crowns for the land sprites and the moss-like costumes for Rusalka and Vodník, let the audience know from the top what land these mythical creatures come. These sets and costumes are beautifully accented by Nate Wheatley's beautiful lighting and Brittany Crison's gorgeous hair and make-up design.

The role of Rusalka is a real feat in acting for any woman to tackle. Sara Gartland does a phenomenal job with the role. We are so used to our leading ladies in the opera world filling the stage with their beautiful soprano voices, and Sara is no different. What impressed me with her performance, seeing this live in 2018 and again with this stream, was the nuanced performance she gave. This is highlighted in Act 2 when the character's voice is taken away. We get to see her communicate as an actor through just the way she looks at each of the cast on stage, as well as in how she gestures to them to try to communicate with them. It becomes clear to the audience what she wants without a single word.

BWW Review: RUSALKA at Des Moines Metro Opera and Iowa PBS: A Journey to the Depths of the Sea and Back.
Evan LeRoy Johnson as Prince
Sara Gartland as Rusalka
Photo by Duane Tinkey

The audience is also treated to seeing Tenor Evan LeRoy Johnson as Rusalka's prince. While other leads in the show don't have rules with what their characters are, he does a terrific job of taking on the down to earth human role. He does this by tapping into the emotions of the prince. We get to see him mesmerized when he meets Rusalka, and then balancing that emotion with how he relates with the foreign princess. While he shows his characters longing for the human interaction, we get to go on that journey as he follows Rusalka to his death.

Zachary James, who is captivating in the role of Vodník, the water goblin. I appreciate how, as an actor, he takes on fantastical characters, and finds a way to make them feel as rooted in reality as the other characters in the role. For me, this comes down to how he moves around, and the physicality he brings to the role. We see this as he uses every part of his body to crawl up onto the stage. As he continues, we see this balance of fantasy vs. reality as he moves around the stage. His stance is what we would expect to see if someone is ruling a group of people, yet he floats from place to place as though he was in the water.

During this production, Jill Grove made her Des Moines Metro Opera debut in the larger than life Ježibaba. It's thrilling to watch her as she takes on this dark and mysterious character, and finds some very comedic moments. Some of my favorites include any time she pulls out her character's cigar and takes a puff and how she slaps Rusalka's hand as she is in transforming from water nymph to human.

Whether you need a trip to a world that isn't our own or want to be entertained for a few hours, this production of "Rusalka" is one you won't want to miss. From the fantastic sets and costumes to the phenomenal cast, each piece of this production weaves beautifully together to make an evening of theatre you won't soon forget. To find out more about this production, and how you can view it, visit https://desmoinesmetroopera.org/productions/rusalka/

BWW Review: RUSALKA at Des Moines Metro Opera and Iowa PBS: A Journey to the Depths of the Sea and Back.
Jill Grove as Ježibaba
Sara Gartland as Rusalka
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Review was written by DC Felton
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From This Author DC Felton