I went along to La Monnaie this evening in some trepidation, warned that Stefan Herheim’s interpretation of Dvorjak’s classic opera, Rusalka, was somehow provocative. It would certainly not be to the liking of traditionalists but I found it to be a rich and intriguing evening’s entertainment. Sung, acted and played to a very high level – as always at La Monnaie – the production seemed somehow never to stop challenging its audience. Herheim’s alternative reading of the libretto is not about water elves and spirits or, rather, not only. He turns the certainties of a simple story accompanied by beautiful music into the complexities of an audience’s motivations and desires. And he cleverly turns the spotlight away from the water nymph, Rusalka, to the water gnome and spirit of the lake, acted and sung brilliantly by Willard White. As White’s tortured character watches the equally tortured Rusalka’s antics in puzzlement, so we might ask ourselves why we want to watch her suffer. If that makes it sound clinical, it’s anything but. Much of the production is a sort of street circus, with frequent James Ensor-like carnivals and grotesques and a neon-lit witty set reproducing some anonymous European city street rather than a pastoral idyll. (Rusalka’s famous aria to the moon is delivered from atop a kiosk and addressed to illuminated satellite television aerials!) Indeed, this is one of those productions that would repay several viewings.