NC Opera’s Rusalka thrills at Meymandi Concert Hall

Joyce received fabulous reviews for her recent performance of RUSALKA with North Carolina Opera. She will perform this role with the Concertgebouw next on May 17 (concert details here).

Much of the credit goes to Joyce El-Khoury, the exciting young Canadian soprano imported to play the title role of the doomed water spirit. Her performance was brilliant, with gorgeous singing and perfect control during the justly famous “Hymn to the Moon” and throughout the nearly 3-hour show. El-Khoury can act, too; she created deeply intimate and emotional moments with the audience again and again.

Hearing her sing in Czech was also a rare treat, with odd consonants and sounds that added a subtly strange layer. In a recent interview with Opera Lively, El-Khoury said her early training in Arabic and Lebanese—and then French, English and Italian—helped the sounds come naturally. Yhe purity of her expression onstage bore that out. I hope we get to see her in another NC Opera presentation before she becomes a star too expensive for this state.
-Todd Morman, IndyWeek Magazine, full review here.

The assumption of the title rôle by soprano Joyce El-Khoury belied that the part is new to her repertoire, her first performances of Rusalka having been in San Antonio earlier this year. [She will reprise the rôle in a concert performance in Amsterdam’s storied Concertgebouw on Saturday, 17 May.] Dramatically, perhaps the greatest challenges for a Rusalka are the scenes in Acts One and Two in which she must essentially take part in duets with the Prince without singing, her ability to speak having been sacrificed in her bargain with Ježibaba. Upon becoming human, the fascination with which Ms. El-Khoury’s Rusalka contemplated her newly-functional feet was fetching. In Act Two, her interaction with the Prince was delectable but troubling, her mimicking of his actions and expressions conveying her overwhelming desire to please him. Her increasing confusion at his violence was shattering, and the muted comeliness of her movements proved immensely effective. The rapt concentration with which she shrouded the Prince’s corpse in her veil and slowly left the stage in the opera’s last bars was acutely poignant. The unerring accomplishment of her acting was enhanced by the purity and stability of her singing. At her first entrance in Act One, it was apparent that Ms. El-Khoury had the music in both her voice and her heart, and her longing to be freed from the confines of her watery realm was the sentiment of poetry, not petulance. ‘Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém,’ the celebrated ‘Song to the Moon,’ was ravishingly sung, the voice seeming to take on the silvery light of the moon to which Rusalka was singing and the fearsomely exposed rise to top B♭ negotiated with ardor and perfect intonation. In the scene with Ježibaba, the sincerity of Ms. El-Khoury’s singing—and the biting brilliance of her top A♯—might have convinced a less thorny sorceress to grant her every wish without stipulations. When Rusalka’s reunion with her father in Act Two restored her ability to speak, the tone poured out of Ms. El-Khoury as though a dam had burst: the top Gs and fortissimo top A that she produced as Rusalka sang of her shame had the force of thunderbolts. The richness of Ms. El-Khoury’s timbre enabled her to glide over Dvořák’s often dense orchestrations without forcing the voice, and even in moments of greatest dramatic duress she maintained her technical deportment. Her singing in the opening scene of Act Three, in which the vocal line often centers in the lower octave of the voice, was communicative of very personal feelings of loss and hopelessness, and her resolve in refusing Ježibaba’s suggestions of murder as the penance for her mistakes was imparted by her pair of flashing top B♭s. Near the end of the opera, her top B as she sang to the Prince that her only possible intervention in his life could be to end it bore the energy of all of the character’s suppressed emotions, and Rusalka’s repeated questions of why the Prince betrayed her—questions to which he never responded—were voiced with profound sadness but no bitterness. Though a young singer, Ms. El-Khoury brought an erudite sensitivity to her performance, and her fresh, golden-toned singing proffered an earnest, recondite portrait of Dvořák’s elusive heroine.
-Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts, full review here.