Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dead Wet Girls

So were you as creeped out by the movie The Ring as I was?

I was curious what the word “rusalka” actually meant and went searching the Internet for a description.

Dvořák’s opera Rusalka is a bittersweet story of unrequited love—often described as a sad version of The Little Mermaid. The opera is truly beautiful and moving and was inspired by a Czech folk story.

But the original legend behind that folk tale is actually a little closer to that scary chick who crawls out of the TV in the movie The Ring than it is to sweet Ariel who cavorts with her pal Sebastian the Crab in the Disney film.

Before we go any farther, DO NOT WORRY: the opera is NOT some creepy horror movie or some weird director’s reinterpretation of the opera. (I can already hear my General Director’s heart beating faster as he reads this blog post.) Dvořák’s opera is safe in the hands of Opera Colorado and director Eric Simonson—it’s a beautiful and romantic masterpiece and Opera Colorado’s production will do the hauntingly beautiful “Song to the Moon” justice. I PROMISE.

Also, it’s true, Dvořák was inspired by this Czech folk legend, but he parted ways with the legend early on and took his inspiration more directly from Hans Christian Anderson than from some morbid Bohemian fantasy.

But in honor of Halloween, I thought it would be fun if I share some of the ooky details of the legend of the rusalki (plural for rusalka).

According to the good people at Wikipedia, the rusalka is an evil water creature specific to Slavic cultures. She’s similar to a mermaid, but she doesn’t have fins. The rusalka is the soul of a young woman or girl whose death came unnaturally or violently, due to the actions of an unfaithful lover. Transformed into a half-human creature living in lakes and ponds and streams, the rusalka can be freed from her cruel fate only when her death is avenged. With long reed-like hair and irresistible shrill laughter, a rusalka lures unsuspecting men into the water and drowns them.

In some versions of the myth, her eyes shine like green fire. Others describe the creature as having extremely pale and translucent skin and no visible pupils. Her hair is often perpetually wet—supposedly, if her hair dries out, she will die. (That’s the part that reminded me of The Ring… Shudder…)

Happily, this is October and we’re well past “Rusalki Week.” That’s the time of year in early June when the rusalki are supposed to be at their most powerful.

Spirits similar to the rusalki appear in other European mythologies, such as the Irish banshee (a female spirit who wails), the German nix (shape-sifting water spirits) and the Romanian lele (a female spirit that only appears at night).

Japanese cinema also has featured many similar spirits. (If you Google “Dead Wet Girls,” you actually get some really interesting articles.) In many Japanese horror films, ghosts are often accompanied by water. Long stringy hair is associated with symbols of madness or demonic possession.

In addition to the evil character of Samara from The Ring, for you video game fans out there, rusalka-like creatures have also appeared in video games such as Quest for Glory IV: Shadow of Darkness and Devil May Cry 4.
-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

Photo credit: Michal Daniels, Minnesota Opera.

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