Notes and Editorial Reviews
It's such a dazzling spectacle that even people who aren't much interested in Prokofiev's opera would probably be drawn in. The all-stops-pulled-out approach fits the piece very well. It's easily the most surreal opera anywhere near the standard repertoire...The performances here are so strong that they aren't overwhelmed by the spectacular visual production values.
L'Opéra National de Paris' production of L'Amour des Trois Oranges must certainly be one of the most elaborate operatic presentations. It has a cast of gazillions, characters who fly, jugglers, fire-eaters, remarkably elaborate costumes, amazingly realistic props (those five-foot oranges are convincingly juicy and edible looking), a huge set,
fireworks, and so on. In fact, at times, it looks more like a Cirque de Soleil show than something you'd see in an opera house. It's such a dazzling spectacle that even people who aren't much interested in Prokofiev's opera would probably be drawn in. The all-stops-pulled-out approach fits the piece very well -- it's easily the most surreal opera anywhere near the standard repertoire. Carlo Gozzi, the eighteenth century playwright whose work was also the source for Turandot, wrote his play using the conventions of commedia dell'arte, but pushed them to new heights of absurdity in reaction to the more sophisticated plays of Goldoni. The opera has so many moments of transcendent silliness that it's hard not to laugh out loud. The curse the evil enchantress lays on the Prince is not the standard "You will sleep for 40 years!" or "You will never escape me unless you climb through a forest of thorns!" but "You will fall in love with three oranges!" And it's just sublimely odd when the Cook guarding the oranges (a basso profundo, who in this production is 12 feet tall with forearms like hams, bearded and bosomy, and extremely butch) becomes so enthralled with a little pink ribbon that the Prince is able to snatch away his beloved fruit from under his/her nose. Director Gilbert Deflo's conception and William Orlandi's costumes and sets are rooted in commedia dell'arte, but the production is thoroughly eclectic, with allusions to a wonderfully weird assortment of styles and periods.
The performances here are so strong that they aren't overwhelmed by the spectacular visual production values. Charles Workman is superb as the Prince. His large, heroic, and expressive tenor gives what could be a silly character a gravity and deeply felt humanity, and he's a completely compelling actor. There are no weak links in the huge cast, but a few deserve to be singled out for special attention. The opera features two female villains, both a wicked princess and a wicked enchantress. The voluptuousness of Hannah Esther Minutillo's singing and acting as Princess Clarisse perfectly matches her slinky, lizard-green evening gown (and she has fabulous green eyelashes.) Her partner in crime, the courtier Leandro, sung with appropriate sleaziness by Guillaume Antoine, is gotten up to look for all the world like John Cleese as Basil Fawlty. As the enchantress Fata Morgana, Béatrice Uria-Monzon sings with a brazen bravura that entirely justifies her outrageous dominatrix costume. José van Dam brings real authority to the small role of Tchélio -- talk about luxury casting! Aleksandra Zamojska's (the good) Princess Ninette is beautifully demure and delicate. Barry Banks sings wonderfully as Truffaldino, but the role is dramatically tricky because it requires the character to be continually funny, a challenge that's tough to bring off. Victor von Halem practically steals the show as the 12-foot Cook -- the varieties of expressiveness he's able to convey, even under pounds of makeup, is incredible and one of the highlights. The director's and designer's sole miscalculation, and it's a big one, is having Smeraldina, "une Noire," costumed and made up according to the conventions of American black-face minstrel shows of a bygone era. Lucia Cirillo sings the role richly and passionately, though.
The opera is sung in French, as it was at its premiere in Chicago in 1921. Anyone who loves grand operatic spectacles, and/or Russian opera, and/or theater of the absurd should consider this DVD.
- Stephen Eddins,
All Music Guide
Works on This Recording
Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33 by Sergei Prokofiev
Guillame Antoine (Baritone),
Jean-Luc Ballestra (Baritone),
Barry Banks (Tenor),
Jean-Sébastien Bou (Baritone),
Charles Workman (Tenor),
Hannah Esther Minutillo (Contralto (Female alto)),
Philippe Rouillon (Bass),
Letitia Singleton (Mezzo soprano),
Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Mezzo soprano),
José Van Dam (Bass-baritone)
Paris National Opera Chorus,
Paris National Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1919; USA
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