Song to Rusalka

As he prepared to take the podium for the 2014 revival of Dvořák’s Rusalka, Yannick Nézet-Séguin spoke to the Met’s Matt Dobkin about why he “loves every bar of this score.”

What draws you to Dvořák’s music?

I have been a huge fan of the music of Brahms since I was 12 years old. Discovering his music led naturally to Dvořák’s, and I quickly became a Dvořák lover as well. His unique lyricism combined with the vitality of his rhythmical writing make a very compelling combination. And his vocal writing is the same—as a young chorister, I remember singing performances of his Mass in D, and I simply loved it right away. When I was invited to make my debut at Covent Garden with Rusalka in 2012, I was extremely excited, and my love for this opera only grew as I worked on it and conducted it.

Are there any particular challenges and rewards of performing an opera by a composer primarily known for his orchestral music?

It is not a universally known fact, but Dvořák composed several operas, and this side of his work was very important to him—he always fought to be recognized as an opera composer. Through opera, he could express his melodic ideal, his Bohemian roots, and his science of orchestration. For a conductor, Rusalka is very rewarding, because the orchestral writing is really influenced by his symphonic style. We can treat it like the most wonderful symphonic poem, to which we add vocal lines of sublime inspiration. It’s the best of both worlds! The specific difficulties lie in the detailed rhythmical figures, which have to be clearly delineated while supporting the vocal line on stage.

Rusalka’s Song to the Moon is one of the most recognizable melodies in opera. What are some of the other highlights of the score that audiences should be listening for?

The poetry of the orchestral colors tells the story in a very powerful way. For example, in the Song to the Moon there is a recurring figure from the violins and the harp, which comes back a lot throughout the opera, expressing the image of the moon and the wind, as well as the longing, unsettled quality of Rusalka’s mood. Each time this figure comes back, it has a different color and a different meaning within the dramatic curve of the piece. Dvořák’s use of the leitmotif is unique. And there are moments of such beauty and such generosity, like the music sung by the prince ... I love every single bar of this opera!

Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed interpreters of the title role. What makes it such a good fit for her?

Anything sung by Renée Fleming becomes the most gorgeous music. The creamy tone of her voice and her peerless control of the musical line bring out the exquisite lyrical writing of Dvořák’s music, and the various shadings she is able to create with her voice express the character’s complexity perfectly. You are right—there is just something special about Renée and Rusalka.

Matt Dobkin is the Met’s Creative Director, Marketing and Strategy.