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Cat. No. CHAN 10449(3) Price: £21 No. of discs: 3
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CHAN 10449 - Dvorak: Rusalka
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Available From: 01 January 2008
Richard Hickox and Opera Australia’s Australian premiere production of Dvorák’s Rusalka opened to spectacular reviews in March 2007. ‘Hickox and the orchestra capture its sudden changeability and dramatic force, elegantly shaping the luscious, sweeping melodies while inflecting the intoxicating, folk music-inspired rhythms with grace and bite’, noted The Australian. Chandos recorded the performances live and here releases the opera on a 3-CD set.

Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale The Little Mermaid, Rusalka tells of a water-spirit who falls in love with a prince. Enlisting the help of a witch, Rusalka becomes human so as to marry him. When the prince tires of her, and is unfaithful, she tries to return to the water, but a condition of her becoming human has been violated and she eventually dies together with the remorseful prince. Her story is of human desire, self-sacrifice and the search for enlightenment.

By the time Dvorák came to write Rusalka, he was an experienced opera composer with nine works to his credit; Rusalka was to be his last and is now a seasoned favourite. Part of the secret of the score’s magic lies in the instrumental colouring. Dvorák was always inspired in his handling of the orchestra, but in Rusalka he reaches new heights of expressive scene painting. In the hands of Richard Hickox these elements are skillfully realised.

Taking the role of Rusalka for the first time in this production, the Australian-born soprano Cheryl Barker won deserved plaudits for her performances throughout the Australian press. ‘It is hard to imagine anyone doing the title role better” (The Australian). ‘Cheryl Barker gives an astonishing performance… she manages to capture the ethereal other-worldly quality of the water spirit, both physically and vocally, and her realization that her love for the prince is not returned is heart wrenching’ (The Canberra Review). She is joined in leading roles by Rosario La Spina, Elizabeth Whitehouse, Bruce Martin and Anne-Marie Owens who also received excellent reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, wrote, ‘Barker is not the only star. Elizabeth Whitehouse is thrillingly venal as the rival foreign princess, and Bruce Martin, as the water sprite, has insistent potency’.

This 3-CD set is sure to draw attention to the talents of Opera Australia and is offered at the price of a 2-CD set.

A final choice must remain marginal, but anyone who wants a new-minted version of one of the most magical of all operas – with the harp signalling the otherworldly magic of Rusalka as Water nymph, more atmospherically recorded than on Decca – this new Chandos version makes an excellent choice.
Gramophone Editor’s Choice

The young Australian tenor Rosario La Spina is stupendous, far more that just the best Prince ever. Every note from top to bottom has a gorgeous ring, and he sings with passion. His three arias closing Act I are dazzling, as he sails easily through the high tessitura; his Act II duets with Whitehouse as the foreign Princess are the stuff of operatic legend. She is very good on her own; together they make sparks fly. Not since Pavarotti have I been bowled over by a new tenor. As a bonus, la Spina also seems comfortable with the Czech language.

The new performance has much to recommend it. It is also sung in Czech skilfully though (as a foreigner I suggest diffidently) with mixed success. It has at the helm Richard Hickox, well at ease with this Australian forces, pacing the music expertly with an affectionate hand. He draws excellent playing from the orchestra, which has a distinct warmth and timbre of its own… Cheryl Barker is an outstanding Rusalka.
International Record Review

Edward Greenfield Gramophone Critic’s Choice 2008

As musical director of Opera Australia, it is not surprising that Richard Hickox should want to make recordings with that excellent company. He has made a bold choice in Dvorak’s last and greatest opera, Rusalka, when there is a near definitive version available on Decca with a mainly Czech cast and the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. Yet even in face of such competition there is a strong case for the new version from Chandos… A final choice must remain marginal, anyone who wants a new-minted version of one of the most magical of all operas… this new Chandos version made an excellent choice.
Gramophone Editor’s Choice

British conductor Richard Hickox responds beautifully to the passionate ebb and surge of the score, and draws some luscious playing from the orchestra… Australian soprano Cheryl Barker makes a very touching Rusalka.
Classic FM

Cheryl Barker is on excellent form, immersing herself in Rusalka’s fiendish technical and emotional range. Good showings in smaller roles include Bruce Martin as a cranky Water Sprite.
The Times


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