Richard Hickox

Dvorák: Rusalka

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Funny, charming, and ultimately quite moving, this is a far more than acceptable if less than totally ravishing recording of Dvorák's fairy tale opera Rusalka. Best known for his hundreds of recordings of English choral and orchestral music, Richard Hickox proves a fine conductor of Bohemian opera, and his interpretation is direct, striking, and very affectionate. The soloists are equally fine. Cheryl Barker's soprano may be a tad too edgy in its upper reaches for the title role, but it is rich and lush below that and her control and commitment cannot be doubted. Rosario La Spina's tenor is surely a bit too orotund for the Prince, and his dramatic delivery only partially compensates for this. Bruce Martin's bass, however, is just right for the Water Sprite, and his performance captures every aspect of his character's conflicted nature. The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra delivers a fine performance with plenty of snap in the tempos and lots of personality in the wind playing. Michael Black's Opera Australia Chorus sings its heart out in the ensemble numbers without overdoing it. And Chandos' Australian digital sound, like its English digital sound, is bright, colorful, and very present. Of course, there are at least two finer recordings of Rusalka available -- Charles Mackerras' loving performance on Decca with the beguiling Renee Fleming in the title role and Vaclav Neumann's nationalist performance with the seductive Gabriela Benackova in the title role -- and so this one, as fine as it is, cannot be considered a first choice. But for listeners who love the work, a recording this good will always be welcome.

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