Wednesday, Oct 26, 2011:Protected Species?

What kinds of spirits are lurking in, on -- or under -- this water in Vysoká?

Should Nymphs Be a Protected Species? A Visit to Vysoká

I have to admit that I have never been a fan of opera, Czech or any other, which is a wonderful statement to make at the beginning of an article for Opus Osm.

There are, however, a few exceptions.

I personally am not to blame for this inconsistency, as about ten years ago my anti-operatic prejudices were lured onto the rocks of certain destruction by the siren voice of American opera star Renée Fleming.

And she managed that by her remarkable rendering of the Song to the Moon from Rusalka at a special concert in Prague.

This woman’s compelling voice penetrated deep into my brain, ground up my limbic system like one of Horst Fuchs’ kitchen mixers, and drained the resulting purée of emotions directly down to my heart. Well, suffice it to say, I fell in love, not with the singer, however beautiful she was, but with the wonderful tones that emanated from deep within her. And that’s what led me to eventually enjoy my first opera, in this case Dvořák’s Rusalka.

Of course, Rusalka is not one of the jolliest of operas around. And you certainly wouldn’t expect that of an opera based on an even more depressing, typically Czech adaptation of Andersen’s relatively depressing “Little Mermaid.”

Here the melting pot of emotions is spiced up by an eeriness so typical of Slavonic folklore. It was also this eeriness that recently booted up my desire to visit the location that allegedly helped inspire Dvořák compose the music for this great opera.

The building currently used as the Dvořák Memorial museum in Vysoká

I thus found myself poking around the grounds of the mansion in Vysoká near Příbram, which serves as the centrepiece for the Dvořák Memorial.

Luckily, the way to Rusalka’s Pond was clearly marked. For me this short walk proved far more inspiring than listening to museum guides and gawking at museum exhibits, something that will certainly appeal to more cultured visitors.

Once there, I sat down by the pond to contemplate the pond’s dark surface. I have to admit that I found it difficult to imagine how water goblins and nymphs could descend into the depths of this pond. It was too shallow to have any depths! Unfortunately, I also realised that I would have to wait until next year to see any nymphs, and even then they would only be those of mosquitoes and dragonflies.

However, for me at least, the atmosphere was quite stunning, especially as I was the only one there on that cold and rainy day. Maybe it is only because of the obvious associations of this location, so well promoted by the administrators of the Dvořák Memorial, but Rusalka’s Pond would certainly make for a grand setting for Dvořák’s mind-blowing opera. It’s unfortunate that opera stars don’t like getting their feet wet!

The gate at Dvořák's villa in Vysoká indicates the current condition of the famous composer's home

Also unfortunate was my attempted visit to Dvořák’s Villa Rusalka on the other side of the village. This was because it is still closed, and at first sight was still in a sorry state of disrepair. It would appear that the great composer’s descendants that apparently own the property are still at a loss about what to do with the building.

Maybe proposed legislation intended to facilitate nationalisation of devastated heritage sites could help to motivate the owners to pull their fingers out and further enhance Vysoká’s role in celebrating the life and work of their famous ancestor. – oo

– František Havran

Photo Credits: František Havran

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