Considered to be the operatic retelling of The Little Mermaid story, Rusalka is a Czech fairy-tale about a mermaid who longs to be human, so that she can be with the Prince who swims in the lake. When her father Vodník (the water-sprite) cannot help her she turns to Ježibaba, the witch. She sings of her love in the beautiful ‘Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém’ known in English as the Song to the Moon. The witch casts a spell to make Rusalka human, but in return she must give up her beautiful voice and if she cannot make the Prince love her she will return to the water, and he will be cursed. The Prince falls in love with the fragile, silent Rusalka, until a bold and ambitious foreign princess arrives at the castle and he chases her instead. Vodnik rescues Rusalka from the Prince, and puts a curse on him. When he turns to the foreign princess for help she spitefully refuses. Rusalka, longing to return to the water, and to her sister sprites, makes another deal with Ježibaba. This time, she must take the Prince’s life in order to return to her own, but she refuses and throws the dagger she is offered into the lake. In her sorrow she becomes a bludička; a spirit of death. The sick Prince seeks her out to ask for her forgiveness and, knowing that it will be fatal, asks her for one last kiss.
Returning to some of the darkness and terror of the original Czech folklore, Dvořák’s magical score combines the sounds of the watery spirit world with echoes of Czech folk music, and creates a masterpiece that is the most performed, and perhaps most loved, Czech language opera in the canon.