Opera ‘reimaging’ at Royal Opera House gets boos and walkouts

If an opera had been met with walkouts during the interval and boos at the finale, it might be pulled from the spring/summer programme, but the Royal Opera House (ROH) has been honest about Rusalka’s mixed reviews.

It is running a new staging of Antonin Dvorak‘s Rusalka, a version of The Little Mermaid, until March 14th and it has been making headlines since its debut this week.

The opera is a far cry from its first staging in 1901 about a water nymph who gives up her voice in order to be human and be with the prince she loves. Instead, the opera is controversially set in a modern-day brothel and the water nymph is a prostitute.

Monday’s opening night saw boos as well as cheers, and the ROH’s director of opera Kasper Holten rushed to defend the criticism, saying: “It is OK to have divided opinion when you try to move the boundaries.”

However, the venue has also been keen to present all of the criticism of Rusalka on its website, collecting the bad reviews as well as the good.

In a blog titled ‘From one star to five’, it has listed the reactions to the opera from the newspapers as well as Facebook and Twitter.

The Financial Times is one publication that gave the opera five stars, while the Independent gave it one star.

Andrew Clements from The Guardian said the production was “an unedifying exercise in postmodern, operatic grunge”.

Audiences have also voiced their thoughts on the show, with Matt Hutchinson tweeting: “Loved Rusalka at @RoyalOperaHouse tonight. Playing & singing superb; costumes weird; production odd but not too obtrusive. What an ending!”

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Holten explained that the production, which premiered in Salzburg in 2008, shows no pretence at being an innocent story.

“We hope audiences will bring along their curiosity and expect to be surprised and challenged, made to think about new aspects of this well-known story,” he said.

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