Prokofiev’s psychodrama proves well worth taking a punt on.
This early Prokofiev opera isn’t performed all that often. Although it is a fine, well-written work, it’s devoid of big tunes appealing primarily to those who are interested in sung drama rather than more conventional opera. Of course, we all know that the composer could write fabulous tunes, as the ballet scores and his Third Piano Concerto attest, but he was then in his revolutionary period as a young firebrand. In 2007 when I saw this production in St Petersburg I was impressed by the ‘sung play’ aspect of it all.
It was very effective and at two hours, didn’t outstay its welcome. In this story, virtually everybody gambles in some way, not just the foolish Alexei, and the plot, set in a German spa, is an intricate ensemble of desperate or failing people. It’s more akin to Strauss’ Arabella than say, La Traviata, both regarded as top conversation operas, and with this well-oiled ensemble, it’s a delight.
The direction is sensible and, happily for those of us watching it on screen, the acting is first class, with none of those close ups of singers glancing nervously at the conductor which mar so many video productions. The singing is marvellous, although Vladimir Galuzin as Alexei struck me as being a little old for the character. The orchestra under Gergiev is also superb. Highly recommended for those who want their opera with more cogent plotting than is often the case.
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine.
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