Rusalka at the Met | Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

New York’s Metropolitan Opera triggered an outpouring of critical contempt this winter by reviving a traditional production of Antonin Dvorák’s fairy-tale opera Rusalka. The press’s enraged reaction to the Met’s sylvan setting starkly revealed the pressures on the house to embrace nihilistic European-style directing. But the critical bile was even more alarming as a sign of the shriveling aesthetic imagination among our purported guardians of culture.

For his eighth and final opera, Dvorák chose a libretto steeped in the rich European tradition of fairy and folk tale, genres which had long enchanted him. The young Czech...

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