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Music by Antonín Dvořák; Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil • September 17, 20, 23 & 25, 2022
Benedum Center

Opera's Little Mermaid

Rusalka is the Czech version of the popular fairy tale The Little Mermaid. While it has many similarities to both the familiar Disney® movie and the Hans Christian Andersen story, they are not exactly the same. First of all, her name is Rusalka, not Ariel. Secondly, Rusalka is not a mermaid per se, but a water sprite, also called a water nymph. However, like in The Little Mermaid, Rusalka falls in love with a human Prince. She has a witch turn her into a human in exchange for her voice. Rusalka must win and keep the Prince’s love, or else there will be disastrous consequences for them both.

Will a jealous Princess ruin Rusalka’s plan? Will Rusalka’s father be able to bail her out if things go awry? Will true love triumph?

Rusalka premiered in 1901 and has become one of the most beloved lyric fairy tales of all time. We are proud to be producing Rusalka for the first time in our 82-year history.

Music Director Antony Walker conducts; Kristine McIntyre directs.

Scenery, properties, projections, and costumes for this production were constructed by Minnesota Opera Shops and are owned by Minnesota Opera and Boston Lyric Opera.

Sara Gartland

Rusalka: Sara Gartland+

Marianne Cornetti

Ježibaba: Marianne Cornetti**

Hao Jiang Tian

Vodnik: Hao Jiang Tian

Jonathan Burton

The Prince: Jonathan Burton+

Leah Hawkins

Foreign Princess: Leah Hawkins+

Julia Swan Laird

First Wood Sprite: Julia Swan Laird*

Emily Richter

Second Wood Sprite: Emily Richter*

Jazmine Olwalia

Third Wood Sprite: Jazmine Olwalia*

Brandon Bell

Hunter: Brandon Bell*

The Artistic Team
Conductor: Antony Walker 
Stage Director: Kristine McIntyre
Set Designer: Erhard Rom
Costume Designer: Kärin Kopischke
Projection Designer: Wendall K. Harrington    
Lighting Designer: Marcus Dilliard
Wig & Make-up Designer: James Geier
Stage Manager: Cindy Knight
Assistant Conductor: Glenn Lewis
Chorus Master: Mark Trawka
Associate Coach/Pianist: James Lesniak
Assistant Stage Director: Haley Stamats*
Assistant Lighting Designer: Todd Nonn
Assistant Wig & Make-up: Nicole Pagano
Assistant Stage Manager: Hannah Nathan
Assistant Stage Manager: Emily Grand

Original Production & Staging by Eric Simonson
Choreography and Dancers Attack Theatre

Music by Antonín Dvořák
Libretto by Jaroslav Kvapil
Sung in Czech with English texts projected above the stage

+    Pittsburgh Opera debut
*     Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist
**   Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist alumni 


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Children must be ages 6 and up. Suggestions and tips for bringing children to the opera may be found at

All children must have a ticket. There is a 50% discount for kids and teens ages 6-18.


The Wood Sprites tease the Water Gnome ( Hao Jiang Tian) as they frolic in the forest.

Rusalka (Sara Gartland, making her Pittsburgh Opera debut) asks the Moon to tell the Prince that she loves him.

The Prince (Jonathan Burton) is astonished to see Rusalka (Sara Gartland) in the forest, and isn't sure if she's a woman or a fairy tale.

The witch Ježibaba (Marianne Cornetti) shows the Wood Sprites the magic potion she is brewing for Rusalka.

Vodník the Water Gnome (Hao Jiang Tian) laments that his daughter Rusalka the Water Sprite (Sara Gartland) has fallen in love with a human.

The Foreign Princess (Leah Hawkins) works to ensnare the Prince (Jonathan Burton), much to the dismay of Rusalka (Sara Gartland).

View our full collection of video excerpts on our Rusalka YouTube playlist

Videos by RLG Creations.


Warning - the following contains spoilers about the plot


The water sprite Rusalka has fallen in love with a human—the Prince—when he came to swim in her lake. Now she wants to become human herself and live on land to be with him. Rusalka’s father, Vodník the water goblin, is horrified and tells her that humans are evil and full of sin. When Rusalka insists, claiming they are full of love, he says she will have to get help from the witch Ježibaba.

Rusalka calls on the moon to tell the Prince of her love and then implores Ježibaba for help. She agrees to turn Rusalka into a human—but warns her that if she doesn’t find love she will be damned and the man she loves will die. Also, by becoming mortal, Rusalka will lose her power of speech. Convinced that her feelings for the Prince can overcome all spells, Rusalka agrees and Ježibaba gives her a potion to drink.

As dawn breaks, the Prince appears with a hunting party and finds Rusalka by the lake. Even though she can't speak to him, he is captivated by her beauty and leads her away to his castle. From the lake, the voices of Vodník and the other water sprites are heard, mourning the loss of Rusalka.


The Prince demands to know why Rusalka is so cold towards him, though he remains determined to win her. A Foreign Princess, who has come for the wedding, is intent on winning the Prince for herself. She mocks Rusalka’s silence and reproaches the Prince for ignoring his guests. The Prince demands Rusalka dress for the ball and escorts the Princess into the castle for the beginning of the festivities. Disconsolate, Rusalka falls into a disturbed sleep.

Vodník appears and sings of his grief at losing Rusalka. When she begs her father to help, telling him that the Prince no longer loves her, Vodník has little to offer. The Prince enters with the Princess and confesses his love for her.

When Rusalka intervenes, rushing into his arms, he rejects Rusalka. Vodník warns the Prince of the fate that awaits him, then disappears into the watery depths with Rusalka. The Prince asks the Princess for help but she ridicules him and tells him to follow his bride into hell.


Rusalka waits by the lake once again, lamenting her fate. Ježibaba mocks her, then hands her a knife and explains that there is a way to save herself: she must kill the Prince. Rusalka refuses, throwing the weapon into the water and sinks into the lake in despair.

The wood sprites enter, singing and dancing, but when Vodník explains to them what has happened to Rusalka, they fall silent and disappear.

The Prince, desperate and half crazy with remorse, emerges from the forest, looking for Rusalka and calling out for her to return to him. She appears from the water, reproaching him for his infidelity, and explains that now a kiss from her would kill him. Accepting his destiny, he asks her to kiss him to give him peace. She does, and he dies in her arms. Rusalka asks for mercy on his soul and disappears into the water.

Adapted from The Metropolitan Opera


Listen to Pittsburgh Opera General Director Christopher Hahn give a brief synopsis of Rusalka featuring excerpts from this 1998 Decca Recording with Sir Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Click play below or download these excerpts for an offline treat!

Act I

  • “Overture" - performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
  • “Mesicku Na Nebi Hlubokem” - sung by Renee Fleming as Rusalka
  • “Tvoje Moudrost Vsechno Tusi” - sung by Dolora Zajick as Ježibaba
  • “Ustante V Lovu, Na Hrad Vratte Se” - sung by Ben Heppner as the Prince

Act II

  • “Jiz Tyden Dlis Po Boku” - sung by Ben Heppner as the Prince
  • “Cely Svet Neda Ti, Neda” - sung by Franz Hawlata as Vodník
  • “Vidi Je, Vidis? Jsou Tu Zas” - sung by Ben Heppner as the Prince and Eva Urbanová as the Foreign Princess


  • “Necitelna Vodni Moci” - sung by Renee Fleming as Rusalka
  • “Bila Moje Lani!” - sung by Ben Heppner as the Prince
  • “Libej Mne, Libej, Mir Mi Prej!” - sung by Renee Fleming as Rusalka



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