Before there was ever the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, there was Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka, with a similar, but much darker, story of a water nymph who gives up the life she’s had, as well as her voice, for love.
Brian Jagde (a winner of the Birgit Nilsson Prize at the Operalia competition) will be singing the Prince role, and says there are real differences with the Disney film and musical. “He’s much more of a cad, a guy who’s just really out for women. He does feel something for Rusalka that he’s never felt before.” This doesn’t keep him from pursuing other women even after his marriage.
Jagde, who grew up northwest of New York City in Rockland County, hasn’t trod a very direct path in his opera career. He sang in high school musicals but never thought of music as a practical career until he went to college for computer science and business for two years. “I hated it. I thought, I can’t sit here and type code that I don’t understand for eight hours a day.” He transferred to a music conservatory where he was classified a baritone – he’d always sung tenor roles before – and it wasn’t until eight or nine years later that he switched back when he got a new tutor. (“I was warming up to high C and I still had no low notes.”)
Although there’s not a lot of Dvorak performed in the United States, this will be the second time Jagde has done Rusalka. “It’s beautiful music.” This story is really the title character’s, he says, adding that Ana Maria Martinez shines in the lead role. “There’ll be some dancing; there’ll be some killing. It’ll be great,” Jagde says. “There will be blood."
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Performances of Rusalka are scheduled for January 29 through February 12 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturday and Tuesday,and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. Through February 12. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15-$322.