Rusalka – 120 years of Dvořák’s most popular opera

Pavla Vachková as Rusalka, photo: e-sbírky/National Museum, CC BY 4.0

Antonín Dvořák’s famous and much loved opera Rusalka received its world premiere 120 years ago, on March 31, 1901.

Rusalka is part of the stable repertoire of many opera companies around the world and is one of Dvořák’s best known works, alongside his ninth, New World symphony, the Slavonic Dances and his famous violin concerto.

The score of Dvořák’s Rusalka | Photo: e-sbírky/National Museum,  CC BY 4.0 DEED

Dvořák actually wrote 11 operas, though only Rusalka is performed much outside the Czech Republic. Here the likes of The Jacobin and The Devil and Kate are also staged.

Rusalka is based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromír Erben and Božena Němcová, with the libretto written by Jaroslav Kvapil. Rusalka, a water sprite, falls in love with a prince. She pays a high price for transformation into a human being, losing her voice. What’s more, the prince falls in love with someone else. Rusalka promises revenge and when the prince wishes to return to her it is too late – he is dying.

Naturally the most performed and recorded Czech opera also contains the most famous Czech aria: Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém, or Song to the Moon, from act 1, in which Rusalka asks the moon, which sees everything, to tell the prince she loves him.