Dvořák goes global as Czech opera gets ‘Live from Met’ premiere

Renee Fleming as Rusalka, photo: Met official Facebook page

A little bit of music history will be made on Saturday when Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka will become the first Czech opera to be broadcast live from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The story of a water nymph who falls for a human has long been a favourite amongst Czech audiences, but this ‘Live in HD’ performance will be beamed to cinemas, concert halls and town squares around the world.

Renee Fleming as Rusalka,  photo: Met official Facebook page
The American soprano Renee Fleming singing an aria from Rusalka, the Czech opera which helped launch her career 25 years ago. Back then Fleming won the Met's National Council Auditions singing the Rusalka aria "Song to the Moon"; this weekend her performance will be broadcast live to an audience of millions around the world.

The Met’s Live in HD shows are broadcast to as many as 2,000 cinemas in 64 countries across the globe, including the Bio Rio cinema in the Swedish capital Stockholm, in a special performance supported by the local Czech Centre. The Centre’s director, Alena Schagen, told me that Rusalka occupied a special place in the hearts of Czech music fans, especially those who find themselves a long way from home.

“For myself, of course it’s also my position and what I do in life - it’s my job, but I’m a little bit nationalistic, especially about culture and about music. I see Antonín Dvořák to be one of the greatest composers and also one of our export goods, if you know what I mean. I just understand Rusalka to be one of the three biggest or most famous Czech operas. But of course there’s the emotional level as well. Just when I hear 'měsíčku zhasni', in any film – a lot of filmmakers use it in their films – it just brings me back home.”

Back here in the Czech Republic, the HD livecast will be shown in 28 cinemas in 24 Czech towns and cities. Organisers say interest is so high, that multiplexes in Plzen and Prague have added extra screening rooms. Those who can’t make it to the cinema can watch it for free in a special outdoor screening at Prague’s Namesti Republiky, and with temperatures heading for 10 degrees Celsius on Saturday, it’s sure to draw the crowds.

The opera itself has won mixed reviews from New York’s famously tough critics, who described Fleming’s performance as rather inconsistent. That’s unlikely to put too many people off, however, as Dvořák’s most successful operatic composition gets a global premiere.