Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka is probably the best known Czech opera, in this country anyway.  He wrote 10 operas, and, to the best of my knowledge, only Rusalka is performed in the United States.  In the first act, Rusalka has a beautiful aria called “Hymn to the Moon” in English.  I set out to find a good rendition of it to post.  Even though she does not sing it in Czech, but rather in German, Welitsch is the type of voice that should sing this aria.  Rita Streich is very good because the tone production and the voice are very free.  It is very easy to muddy this aria just because of the nature of the Czech language.  Streich does not do that.  And just as aside, apropos of nothing, this is one of the many, many arias that Renée Fleming never should have tried to sing.  It is way out of her Fach.

Rusalka

The most popular and successful Czech opera, Rusalka, tells the story of an immortal water nymph from Slavic Mythology who falls in love with a prince and yearns to become human. It is a sad and touching fairy tale which contains many similarities to Undine by German poet Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué and The Little Mermaid by Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson.

The opera Rusalka is based on the fairy tales of the folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben and the Czech writer, Božena Němcová. The opera was composed by the Czech composer, Antonín Dvořák and the libretto was written by the Czech poet and librettist, Jaroslav Kvapil, who first had the idea to write the libretto while on the island of Bornholm.

Kvapil began working on the libretto for Rusalka before he had any contact with the composer. In fact, at the time when he wrote the libretto, he was uncertain who would compose it.  It was not until 1899, when the libretto was complete, that Kvapil began searching for composers to set his text. He offered it to a few other composers before Dvořák, none of whom showed any interest in the text. During this time, Dvořák was looking for a new project and issued an advertisement through the National Theatre. It was not until Kvapil saw the advertisement that Dvořák was looking for a libretto that he offered it to Dvořák through the theatre’s director.

Dvořák composed the opera quite quickly. The composition of the first draft began on April 22, 1900 and was completed by the end of November. Dvořák had always been interested in the stories of Erben and was very enthusiastic about the work.

Dvořák manages to evoke images of moonlight reflecting on the black lake and leaves rustling in the dark forest. The musical score is hauntingly beautiful and mysterious and, at times, even sinister.

Dvořák composed Rusalka when he was 60 years old, just three years before he died. It was the ninth opera he composed in his lifetime.
In the spring of 1901, Rusalka premiered at the National Theatre in Prague where Dvořák had once played as a young musician many years prior.

Welitsch sings the Hymn to the Moon from the Czech opera Rusalka in German.

Hymn to Moon

Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém,
Světlo tvé daleko vidím.
Po světe bloudíš širokém,
Díváš se v příbytky lidí.

Měsíčku, postůj chvíli,
řekni mi, řekni
kde je můj milý.
Rekni mu, stříbrný měsíčku,
Mé že jej objímá rámě,
Aby si alespoň chviličku
Vzpomenul ve snění na mne,
Zasviť mu do daleka,
Rekni mu, řekni m kdo tu nan ceka!
O mneli duse lidska sni,
Rt’se tou vzpominkou vzbudi!
Měsíčku, nezhasni, nezhasni!

Hymn to the Moon

Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far,
You travel around the wide world,
And see into people’s homes.

Moon, stand still for a moment,
Tell me, tell
Where is my beloved.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him,
for at least a little while,
Let him remember dreaming of me,
Illuminate him far away
Tell him, ah tell him who is here waiting!
If he is dreaming about me,
May this remembrance waken him!
O, Moon, don’t disappear, don’t disappear!