Antonín Dvořák

A lyrical fairy-tale in three acts Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil

Premiere 7. May 2022

Performed in Czech with German and English supertitles


Having fallen in love with the Prince, the water nymph Rusalka wishes to become human in order to be with him forever. The witch Ježibaba demands that Rusalka give up her voice for this transformation, whereupon she leaves her home and family. Arriving in the world of the humans, Rusalka initially enraptures the prince; yet the magical, voiceless creature remains something of a stranger in this new society, and eventually her lover turns away from her – which means death for him and banishment for her. With great dramatic feeling, Dvořák’s music for his fairy-tale opera (which premiered in Prague in 1901) contrasts the world of the ghostly, swirling underwater kingdom with the stiff formalities of the royal court. The international stage director Christof Loy will make his debut at the Semperoper with this allegorical study of the significance of one’s own identity and the meaning of the human soul, illustrated by the transformation of the main character Rusalka from a romantic water nymph to a suffering, loving human who lacks a real home.


In the realm of the Water Sprite, a strangely theatre family has come together: the melancholic and bad-tempered Water Sprite, the all-knowing and feared Ježibaba, the forest nymphs, floating like ballerinas over the stage, and Rusalka, the Water Sprite’s favorite daughter, who also to be able to float through the air. The whole family lives together with jokers and dreamy clowns in a world of illu¬sions, but also one of disillusions. And even worse, the misanthropic Water Sprite does not allow his children to leave his world. 

Act 1 
Rusalka longs for a life, in which she belongs to a man, become a beloved woman and have a soul that then rises high to heaven after a fulfilled life among the human race. She asks her father to let her free. He had always feared that he would not be able to keep Rusalka by his side forever. Like a betrayed lover, he repudiates his daughter and wishes her every possible misfortune. Her stepmother Ježibaba sends her out into the world, and also predicts that she will fail on her life’s path. Like a witch in a fairy tale, she puts a curse on Rusalka before she leaves: firstly, she will lose her voice, and then, if she finds a man who loves her but does not remain loyal to her, he will have to pay for the infidelity with his own life. Rusalka, however, stays on her path unperturbed: believing in the love and strength of an innocent soul. Now she can float and dance like a feather. And just as she had imagined in her most beautiful dreams, a young man finds her in her world and takes her away with him – away from a childhood that seemed so sheltered, but has increasingly turned into a prison. Freedom and the happiness of love seem within reach. Rusalka becomes indeed speechless due to her happiness. 

Act 2 
The prince has taken Rusalka to his castle. He wants to marry her a week after their first meeting. The wedding party is arranged quickly. But all of this happens so fast that Rusalka can hardly believe her luck and is not able to speak again. She always has the feeling that she is not worthy of the prince, and shortly before the wedding, the prince is also deeply unsure whether this strange, silent creature will make him happy. He wants her to return his passion with clearer signs. But Rusalka is not familiar with the games of love and remains silent. A foreign princess, who has been invited to the wedding, recognises the prince’s doubts and also realises that he can be easily tempted. She mocks him for his ghostly mute bride and finally decides to seduce the groom in front of her. Rusalka, who had believed in the prince’s words and love, must come to the realisation that the Water Sprite was right. Mingled with the guests, he has watched his daughter fail in the big wide world, exactly as he had predicted. Rusalka accuses her father of being responsible for the fact that she cannot give herself to the prince. She has surely inherited his cold¬ness as a dowry. When she watches how the prince betrays his vows of love in front of her eyes, all her illusions collapse. Her dream of a fairytale lovestory is smashed to pieces. 

Act 3
Rusalka has become homeless. She returns to her family once more, but she knows that her father will never take her back. And when Ježibaba advises her to kill the prince – because doing so could free her from the curse – she finally renounces the kingdom of the Water Sprite. She would rather live unredeemed than kill the person whom she still loves. The Water Sprite and the nymphs mourn the loss of their former compagnion. But Rusalka meets the prince again in the new spheres that she has entered. Just as her spirit slowly dissolves into the pain of love, so does his own: from the guilty conscience that he has betrayed Rusalka. He wants to be reunited with her. When the two meet again, Rusalka is able to speak to him for the first time. And they try to talk to each other with clarity and to understand why their love was doomed. Finally, she can forgive him and kisses him. With this kiss of forgiveness, she takes away the curse of her parents and that of the lying world which weighed him down. Love and guilt, beauty and pain, are intertwined. She pleads God to have mercy on human beings. 

by Christof Loy