Dvořák’s “Rusalka”: Four Key Excerpts

First performed on March 31, 1901 in Prague, Antonín Dvořák’s enduring fairytale opera in three acts, Rusalka, Op. 114, blends Slavic mythology with the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid .

Rusalka is a water nymph who falls in love with a human—a Prince who happens one day to swim in her lake. She tells her father, the water goblin, that she wishes to become human to be with the Prince. Horrified, he warns against it, but he points Rusalka to the witch,  Ježibaba, for assistance. Ježibaba offers Rusalka a magic potion. The transformation comes with conditions. Rusalka will lose her power of speech and forfeit immortality. Additionally, if she does not find love, she will be eternally damned, and the man she loves will die. The water nymphs mourn as the Prince, who returns to the lake while hunting a white doe, embraces Rusalka and leads her away to his castle. As the wedding approaches, a foreign princess, who has come for the ceremony, mocks Rusalka for her inability to speak. Rusalka is filled with grief as the Prince callously casts her aside. Rusalka returns to Ježibaba, who hands her a knife and tells her that she can only save herself by killing the Prince. Refusing, Rusalka throws the weapon into the lake, and sinks deep into the water in despair. Sick and filled with remorse, the Prince returns to the lake, desperately calls out to Rusalka, and begs for forgiveness. Rusalka tells the Prince that a kiss from her will now kill him. He accepts his destiny. Following the kiss, he dies in her arms. Just before the curtain falls, Rusalka invokes forgiveness with the words, “For your love, for that beauty of yours, for your inconstant human passion, for everything by which my fate is cursed, human soul, God have mercy on you!”

Influenced by the works of Wagner, Rusalka is largely through-composed, and makes use of leitmotifs relating to Rusalka, her damnation, the water goblin, and the forest. The opera’s libretto, by Jaroslav Kvapil, was based on Czech folklore.

Mesicku na nebi hlubokém (“Song to the Moon”)

In the opera’s most famous aria, Rusalka sings to the moon, calling on it to tell the Prince of her love. This soaring yet prayerful soliloquy comes in the first act, just before Rusalka meets Ježibaba and is rendered mute. It evokes a magical nocturnal calm. There is a sense of quiet, cosmic wonder under a vast starlit sky. Water ripples can be heard in the harp and strings. There are distant horn calls, and wistful interjections in the clarinets. The lamenting voice of the English horn emerges in the final moments of the aria, as if to offer a foreshadowing of tragedy to come.

This recording features Renée Fleming with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic:

Cury mury fuk (Ježibaba’s Aria)

Ježibaba the witch’s Act I aria can be loosely translated as “abracadabra.” It is a list of the grotesque ingredients of the magic potion, which include “a drop of dragon’s blood, ten drops of bile, the warm heart of a bird,” all dropped into a hissing kettle.

This recording features American mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic:

Vidino divná (“Wondrous vision”)

This soaring, romantic aria follows the Prince’s first glimpse of Rusalka. The rippling harp and clarinets mirror Rusalka’s Song to the Moon. The opening moments suggest the magical serenity of the forest.

This performance features Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov with Mikhail Simonyan and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin:

Líbej mne, líbej, mír mi prej (“Kiss me, give me peace!”)

Only in in the final moments of the opera do Rusalka and the Prince sing together in a love duet. It is a fleeting and disturbing meeting, marked by the greater reality of rejection and ultimate separation. The Act III Finale has been described as “twelve or so of the most glorious minutes in all of opera,” infused with “majestic, almost hymnic solemnity.” (Max Loppert) The moment of transfiguration comes with the kiss, which delivers peaceful death. As the Prince’s life slips away, two chords alternate in a quietly haunting duel. The winds remain rooted in the shadowy world of mortality, while the strings and harp offer a celestial vision, beyond. Unmoved, the vengeful water goblin declares that all sacrifices are futile. Briefly, the trombones intone a solemn funeral march. As the final curtain falls, Rusalka’s tender forgiveness endures and triumphs.


  • Dvořák: Rusalka, Op. 114, Charles Mackerras, Renée Fleming, Ben Heppner, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Kühn Mixed Choir, Franz Hawlata, Eva Urbanová, Dolora Zajick, Zdena Kloubová, Ivan Kusnjer Amazon
  • Dvořák: Rusalka, Op. 114 (Vidino divná), Dmytro Popov, Mikhail Simonyan, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin Amazon

Featured Image: Růžena Maturová as the first Rusalka

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Dvořák’s “Rusalka”: Four Key Excerpts”

  1. Mesicku na nebi hlubokém (“Song to the Moon”) get’s my vote for one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Beauty is of course subjective, so other people might have a different “short list” than mine. Thank you so much for this article!


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