Julie Makerov (left), Irina Mishura and Richard Paul Fink are over the moon in Rusalka.
RUSALKA by Antonin Dvorak (Canadian Opera Company at Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen West). To February 23. $30-$290. 416-363-8231. See listings. Rating: NNNN
Though Dvorak's best-known opera, Rusalka, is a take on Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, don't look for Disneyfication of a tragic tale.
Water nymph Rusalka falls for a prince and wants to be human to share his love. Helped by the witch Jezibaba, she takes human form but forfeits her voice. When a foreign princess enters the picture, things don't go as Rusalka planned.
Director Dmitri Bertman's involving production flirts with fairy tales but is grounded in the modern world.
He gets great support from set designer Hartmut Schörghofer, whose turntable set (lit by Thomas C. Hase) features an expansive lake with huge water lilies (and real water) and a boxed-in court world. Corinna Crome's costumes are as much fun, especially Jezibaba's lizard-like garb.
Conductor John Keenan draws lush sounds from the orchestra, especially the string section. Sometimes, though, he drowns out Julie Makerov, a mostly tender water nymph. The plot dictates that she doesn't speak for part of the show; too bad she and Bertman couldn't find a way for Rusalka to communicate physically.
There's fine work, too, by the commanding Irina Mishura as the seductive witch, imagistically tied to the rival princess (Joni Henson), and by Richard Paul Fink as the protective water gnome.
Michael Schade's prince, though passionately sung, offers little drama. But Michael Barrett and Betty Allison, as a couple who unexpectedly break the narrative's fourth wall, prove that in the right hands minor comic roles can become a major part of the story.