Intro

Rusalka   is an opera by the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and was first performed in Prague in March 1901.

The opera is sung in Czech, but don't worry – the English words are shown above the stage, in surtitles, and you'll find it very easy to follow.

This site is about the opera, the story, the characters, and what the music sounds like. You can find this stuff by clicking on the toolbars

The heroine, Rusalka, is sometimes called a nymph or a sprite. Some people think she's a fairy and the singer who played Rusalka in London last year said, 'the trouble is, I'm playing a fish...' Perhaps 'alien' is perhaps the best way to describe her.

Teachers' Guide

Teachers' Guide notes are available as downloads:

Act 1

It's night time in the forest, and three wood nymphs dance in the moonlight. They are young and lively, and their music has all the bounce of kids, jumping around and annoying the grown ups.

Vodník the water goblin pops his head up from the pool, and the nymphs tease him. He'd dearly like to catch one and drag her down to his underwater kingdom, but he's too fat – and the water weeds get in the way.
Rusalka sits apart. She is no mood to frolic with the nymphs and, once they've gone, she calls to Vodník. 'Father!' she says. 'Help me, I'm so sad – I want to become a woman!' Vodník is horrified, but Rusalka takes no notice. 'Didn't you tell me that men and women have souls? I want a soul...' 'You're happier without one,' he replies. 'Human beings only fill their souls up with sin.' 'And with love!' says Rusalka. 'I love a human. He comes to swim in this pool – but he can't see me, he thinks I'm only a wave. I want to be a woman.'
Vodník looks at her with dismay; he knows it won't work, but – since she's determined – she'd better call on the witch, Ježibaba. Left alone, Rusalka looks up at the moon. It's so high and bright – surely it can see everything? Including the man she loves. She pours out her feelings to the moon.

Rusalka's watery world begins to slip away – she can just hear her father sorrowing for her deep in the pool – but she's more interested in the witch, who lives in a cottage on the land. 'Ježibaba!' she cries – and the next minute the hag appears. 'What do you want?' says the witch.
'I want to be free from the water – take away my fish tail, give me some legs!'
'Legs eh? They come with a price.'
'I'll pay it!'
'OK, you can give me your voice. When you're with humans you won't be able to say a word. And listen, Rusalka, you've got to make it work. You must find a human being to love you. If it all goes wrong and you come back here, you'll be cursed – stuck in that pool, with nothing to do but lure men to their deaths.'
None of this frightens Rusalka, so Ježibaba pulls out a cauldron and begins the magic spell...

She pours a potion down Rusalka's throat whose tail – and speech – disappear as she gets a pair of legs. The sun comes up and she hears a man singing in the distance. He's a hunter, one of the Prince's men, and he sings about the white doe as hunting horns sound from the orchestra pit.
The Prince enters, still looking for the doe – he stops by the pool and tells his men to go home. In the distance the Hunter warns. 'That's no doe, Prince! May God save your soul...' But the Prince isn't listening, he's seen Rusalka – barefoot, silent, and very beautiful.

The Prince is not sure whether Rusalka is real, but decides to risk it and take her back to his Castle.