Rusalka versus The Little Mermaid: One Story, Three Endings

If the premise of Rusalka sounds familiar, it’s because it is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. We read the original fairy tale and watched Disney’s Little Mermaid in preparation for attending The Minnesota Opera‘s production of this story. I will start by summarizing the three versions of this narrative.

Hans Christian Anderson: The Little Mermaid falls in love with a prince. She trades her voice for legs. After some drama, the prince rejects her, but instead of killing him so she can have her mermaid life back, she throws the dagger and herself into the sea where she becomes an ethereal earthbound spirit who can earn her soul back with 300 years of good deeds.

Rusalka: Rusalka, a water nymph, falls in love with a prince. She trades her voice for legs. After some drama and lots of singing, the prince rejects her, but instead of killing him so she can have her water nymph life back, she throws the dagger into the lake where she sinks into the depths and becomes a demon that lures humans to their death. Eventually the prince finds her and begs for one last kiss, knowing he will be damned. Rusalka kisses him. He dies. She returns to her demon world.

Disney: Ariel the mermaid falls in love with a prince. She trades her voice for legs. After some drama and lots of singing, the prince marries the little mermaid and they live happily ever after. (At least until the sequel. I haven’t seen that). There never is a dagger involved in this version, but there is an unfortunate trident death.

Parents tend to fall along two schools of thought when it comes to Fairy Tales. The first is The Grimmer the Better: Fairy Tales Were Meant to Teach Lessons and the second is Happily Ever After for My Kids, Please. Where you personally fall in this continuum will probably determine which version you prefer for your children. As far as lessons, I don’t really see a great lesson in any version. Anderson at least suggests that selfless acts are a virtue, but then it adds that bad children will add to her suffering, which kind of negates her reward for selflessness. Disney seems to condone disobedience and whirlwind marriages (they knew each other three days!). Rusalka’s moral is “All sacrifices are futile“. Adult discussions I’ve read aren’t really sure what the moral take-away should be from these stories. Our children may have some ideas?

Considerations for Attending Rusalka with a Child:

  • The run time for Rusalka is about 3 hours, including two intermissions. This makes a late night with a 7:30 p.m. start time. A matinee may be best with children.
  • If you leave at the first intermission, the story ends happily and only runs 1 hour. While I understand that when you purchase a ticket, you want to get the most out of your experience, some children may not be ready for a three-hour opera. However, If your long-term goal is to raise a child who likes opera, leaving early while they are younger may be a good tactic.
  • Children under six are not allowed in the performance hall. I’ve seen various age recommendations online for this opera. After seeing it, I believe it is best suited for upper grade school and up. However, the tactic above could make it suitable for earlier grade school. My 10-year-old thoroughly enjoyed it and was disappointed that it was a school night, so we couldn’t stay for the whole thing.
  • This opera is sung in Czech with English translations projected above the stage. I didn’t spend much time watching the captioning. If you know the story, it is unnecessary. If your child is not a competent reader, you may want to spend a little bit of time beforehand familiarizing them with the story line. There were a couple times when my daughter had to ask me what was going on.
  • Because we usually attend things with press passes, we get “good seats”. The cheap seats, are the seats my children prefer — the ones really high up and in the boxes. I suspect this is true for most kids.

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