Lyric opera in three acts by Antonín Dvořák Performed in Czech with German surtitles
In the dark realm of the Water Goblin, hidden longings and strange desires become apparent. No-one willingly descends to these depths.
Three elves are teasing the Water Goblin lasciviously. They frighten him with the rage of his jealous wife and leave him behind unsatisfied.
Lamenting the loss of his youth, he sees the mermaid Rusalka appear before him. She tells him how she has met a man who can neither see or hear her. To consummate her love, she wants to become human and leave the water for ever. Appalled by this, the Water Goblin warns Rusalka of the inconstancy and mortality of mankind which only brings disaster. She does not, however, allow herself to be intimidated, and asks how she can achieve her aim. Reluctantly, the Water Goblin sends her to the witch Ježibaba and departs lamenting.
Rusalka turns to the moon and asks it to tell the man of her desires how much she is yearning for his love.
Ježibaba, whom the mermaid has called, appears. Rusalka praises the witch’s powerful magic and begs her to turn her into a human. Before she does so, Ježibaba demands not only Rusalka’s beautiful mermaid dress but imposes cruel conditions: when human, Rusalka will lose her power of speech. If her earthly love is not consummated, she will be cursed for ever and her lover doomed to die. Certain that her love will protect her from all these curses, Rusalka agrees.
Ježibaba gets to work in her witch’s kitchen. While she is giving Rusalka her magic potion to turn her into a human, the Water Goblin’s lamentations resonate from the depths.
At the break of dawn, a prince approaches with his hunting retinue. He feels trapped by a strange magic and sends the hunters away. In a vision, a beautiful virgin appears before him. The sight of her enchants him and he declares his love for her. Without being able to say a word, Rusalka falls trustingly into the arms of the man of her desires. Lamentations over the lost daughter are heard again from the depths of the water.
Preparations for a celebration are underway at court. There is gossip and malicious talk among the courtiers about the prince’s strange taste in women: his new lover is thought to be an unearthly creature, and their relationship to involve an evil magic. No sooner does the prince appear with Rusalka than the courtiers all disappear.
The prince is head over heels in love but Rusalka’s coolness and perpetual silence put his desire to the test. A foreign princess appears at the celebration. She observes the prince’s unfulfilled passion and, full of vain intentions, intrudes between the couple. She reproaches the prince for neglecting his duties as host, and convinces him that his speechless lover is having a bad influence on him. Uncertain, the prince gives the princess his arm and leaves Rusalka behind silent in her despair.
During the celebration, the prince amuses himself with his princess, who is passionately beguiling him, and ignores Rusalka. Bitterly disappointed by his betrayal, she begs the Water Goblin to help her but he can only weep over Rusalka’s fate. She is neither human nor nymph and therefore belongs to neither world.
Meanwhile the prince has become completely enslaved by the charm of the foreign princess. He is ardently soliciting her favours. When Rusalka full of despair throws herself at the Prince’s feet, he contemptuously pushes her aside. This arouses the Water Goblin’s anger. He curses the prince and pulls Rusalka down with him into the depths. In fear of death, the prince begs the foreign princess to help him. She now laughs at him and his unfaithfulness, and leaves him alone in his deranged state.
Rusalka is held fast by the merciless powers of the water in whose waves she finds neither death nor life. As punishment for her longing for human love, she now floats between appearance and reality, full of pain at the prince’s treachery.
Ježibaba appears and makes it clear to Rusalka that she can only free her from the evil curse if Rusalka herself sheds the blood of her beloved by her own hands. Ježibaba presses a dagger into her hand but Rusalka throws it away. She would rather be damned than be guilty of killing her lover. Full of scorn for Rusalka’s naivety, the witch leaves laughing.
Rusalka sees herself surrounded by her sisters who finally cast her out of their circle and point the way to Rusalka’s existence as a lost soul: anyone who approaches her now will die.
In the moonlight, the three elves sing the praises of their pale beauty and try again to lure the Water Goblin with their vain game. He turns away from them joyless, lamenting the loss of his daughter. The elves flee from the gloomy darkness surrounding him.
In his deranged state, the prince is searching for Rusalka down in the depths. She appears to him and warns him of the danger he is in but he wishes them to be united in love at any price. He kisses her, sinks into Rusalka’s arms and dies.
The Water Goblin bemoans the fact that every sacrifice for love is in vain. Trusting that every person will find peace in the next world, Rusalka remains behind alone.