Rusalka (Dargomyzhsky)

Rusalka (Russian: Руса́лка) is an opera in four acts, six tableaux, by Alexander Dargomyzhsky, composed during 1848-1855. The Russian libretto was adapted by the composer from Pushkin's incomplete dramatic poem of the same name. It premiered on 4 May 1856 (Old Style) at the Theatre-circus, conducted by Konstantin Lyadov (father of Anatoly Lyadov), choreographed by Marius Petipa and Nikolay Goltz, but was badly received predominantly by the aristocracy.

In 1859, the opera was again presented at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, but it was not until 1865, when it was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre, that it was finally well received. The conductor was Eduard Nápravník; the Prince was sung by Fyodor Petrovich Komissarzhevsky, the Princess by Darya Leonova, Miller by Osip Petrov, and Natasha by Yulya Platonova.

Although much of Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka is fairly conventional in musical form and style, its singular innovation for the history of Russian music in particular is the application of "melodic recitative" at certain points in the drama. This type of recitative consists of lyrical utterances which change continuously according to the dramatic situation, with likewise varied accompaniment in the orchestra. Dargomyzhsky was to apply this technique of vocal composition on a small scale in his songs and on a large scale in his final opera, The Stone Guest.

The opera was translated into English by Leonard & Emily R. Lehrman in 1986. Excerpts from that translation were performed in concerts in France in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1996, and in New York in 2015. The entire work was performed in English for the first time at Queens College, Nov. 22, 2015. The cast included Helene Williams (Natasha), Gregory Mercer (the Prince), Perri Sussman (the Princess), David Anchel (the Miller & the Matchmaker), Kathryn Wieckhorst (Olga), Jackie Bakewell (Rusalochka), and The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, conducted from the piano by Leonard Lehrman.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
4 May 1856 (Old Style)
(Conductor: Konstantin Lyadov ), Theatre-circus
The Prince tenor Pavel Bulakhov
The Princess mezzo-soprano Darya Leonova
The Miller bass Osip Petrov
Natasha, his daughter, later a Rusalka soprano Anisya Bulakhova
Ol'ga, an orphan, devoted to the Princess soprano Emiliya Lileyeva
A Matchmaker baritone Pyotr Gumbin
Little Rusalka, 12 years old non singing
Chorus: Boyars, boyarynyas, hunters, peasant men and women, and rusalki


The action takes place by the Dnieper River

The plot tells of a maiden who, after being jilted by a prince, drowns herself (hence the designation "rusalka," or "drowned maiden"). The last act of the opera, which features a ballet, is somewhat unusual in that a 12-year-old rusalka speaks her lines over the music.

Act 1

The bank of the Dnieper River. A mill near an oak tree.

Act 2

A rich mansion. A princely wedding.

Act 3

Scene 1: A tower chamber. A drawing room.

Scene 2: The bank of the Dnieper River. The ruined mill. Evening.

Act 4

Scene 1: The bottom of the Dnieper. The underwater palace of the Rusalki.

Scene 2: The bank of the Dnieper River. The ruined mill.

Principal arias and numbers

Act 1

Aria: "Oh, it's just that all you young girls...", «Ох, то-то все вы, девки молодые...» (Miller)

Related works

Other operas featuring rusalki as characters include Rimsky-Korsakov's May Night and Dvořák's Rusalka.


  • Naroditskaya, Inna (2006) (Ed. Linda Austern and Inna Naroditskaya), "Russian Rusalkas and Nationalism", Music of the Sirens, Indiana University Press. pp.216-249.

External links

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