When I first saw UBC opera’s posters for Rusalka, I was a little surprised that under the title were the words: “The Little Mermaid Story” — An opera about The Little Mermaid? Really? At the outset of this project I can’t say that I took the plot of Rusalka very seriously. Rusalka was a story set in the fairytale lands of my childhood, brought to life with the musical genius of a great composer. I regarded it as a silly old story paired with great music. But as the weeks have gone by, my thinking has changed.
For most of us twenty-something’s, fairytales were something that we were introduced to as children, watching Disney movies in our pajamas. Now that we’re older, the tendency is to treat those stories with a nostalgic, non-seriousness. But Rusalka, first known to us as Ariel, is a deeply rooted figure in Slavic folklore. Her origins are unclear, but it’s certain that her story has been told and re-told for centuries. Simply by virtue of how old it is, one might ask: What is it about this quaint old tale that makes it so appealing? Well… I think the lasting appeal of fairytales lies in their sense of timelessness. Because these events exist in a world separate from our own, they could just as easily have happened yesterday as five hundred years ago. Being so separated, they are also devoid of all the political and social concerns that define our everyday lives. Essentially what you are left with is something so distant and fantastical that it easily connects with humanity.
The characters in Rusalka, as with all fairytales, are decidedly archetypal since everyone can relate to them on some level. Rusalka, the naïve dreamer who wishes for nothing more than to be loved, the dashing head-strong Prince, Vodník the loving father, the scheming Foreign Princess, and the list goes on.
Fairytales like this one remind me that to some extent, people have always been the same. The characters and stories that were a part of my childhood also informed the lives of kids in countless preceding generations. Despite being separated by hundreds of years, we still share these stories.
Although it is glazed with a veneer of mysticism, at its heart Rusalka is a story of triumph, tragedy, love and heartbreak. Making it every bit as relevant to today’s world as the newest Hollywood movie. All the more reason to come see it, don’t you think?
– Cameron Killick who plays one of the Hunters in Rusalka