I have previously written about one of my favourite songs: Rusalka’s “Mesicku na nebi hlubokem,” (Song to the Moon) from the Opera by Antonín Dvořák showing images of the stage sets and Renee Fleming’s beautiful version. The song is sung by a plaintive girl longing for love calling on the moon to tell her Prince of her love.
Pascal Barnier sent me a lovely image below and I decided to do a little bit more research into the folklore behind the character.
In the opera Rusalka’s father is a water goblin called Vodnik and there is a witch called Jezibaba who transforms Rusalka into a human at the cost of her voice. Rusalka’s lover the Prince, betrays her, dooming them both. I’d love to see an Opera about the younger Rusalka before she fell for the Prince with the last Act a contracted version of the original opera to show just how much she gives up for her love.
Here is my performance of the aria from this year’s “Voice Of The Future” competition at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod if you haven’t had the chance to see it.
Rusalka is a water nymph a female spirit whose origins can be traced to the Slavic folklore (Eastern Europe). The name comes from the eastern Slavic русалка ( meaning red haired girl ) and has taken on the meaning mermaid in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine. In western Slavic folklore there are stories based on spirits called víla in Czech or Slovak and wiła in Polish.
Folklore tells us that generally, the rusalka couldn’t completely stand out of water, half woman half fish, some stories say that she could climb trees or sit on a dock with her feet/flippers in the water combing her hair, sometimes the rusalka is depicted as wood nymph usually during the summer the rusalka would join in circle dances in groups.
Some dark tales tell of rusalki who like to play games, despising other women and only showing themselves to attack or take away their men. Her purpose was to lure young men, seduced by her looks or voice, into the depths of the water to destroy him.
These stories are found all over the world, in Brazilian mythology Iara or Yara are sirens or mermaids. Depicted as beautiful females who lead men to their deaths singing to them whilst combing her hair. Once under Iara’s spell the victim would leave anything to live with her underwater forever, she is immortal but he grows old.
These same myths are represented in stories of mermaids going back thousands of years. Greek sirens were first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey they were sea-nymphs who had the power to charm by song, unhappy mariners were irresistibly drawn to the depths of the sea to their doom. Many medieval sailors claimed to have seen them. The mermaids described by Columbus were said to be the marine creatures called manatees.In British folklore they can be bringers of bad luck causing bad storms and drowning men. In some tales they marry and live with humans such as the Merrow from Scotland.
Do you know of any other similar folk tales about these water nymphs?