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Prokofiev: Betrothal In A Monastery / Netrebko, Gergiev, Et Al

Prokofiev / Netrebko / Diadkova / Kob / Gergiev
Release Date: 09/13/2005 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 000518809  
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Marianna TarasovaLarissa DiadkovaAnna NetrebkoNikolai Gassiev,   ... 
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater OrchestraKirov Theater Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Filmed 1998, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg.

Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese
Picture format: 16:9 anamorphic
Sound: LPCM Stereo DTS 5.1 surround
Booklet notes: English, French, German

This is the first-ever release on any video format of the Kirov’s 1998 production of Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery -- now available on Philips DVD, in anamorphic widescreen and DTS 5.1 digital surround sound. As with all of Philips’s previous Gergiev / Kirov operas on DVD, the disc features full subtitling in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.

Valery Gergiev directs this Kirov Opera production of Prokofiev’s lyrical comedy. Set in 18th
Read more century Seville, Prokofiev’s adaptation of a play by the English playwright Sheridan is an opera buffo par excellence, featuring lovers in disguise, a stern father thwarted, a rich suitor discomfited, venal monks, unreliable servants – and, inevitably, young love triumphant. The cast is led by Anna Netrebko as the beautiful heroine, supported by Larissa Diadkova as her scheming duenna.


Moscow, 1940, was hardly an auspicious nursery for light-hearted comedy, especially for Prokofiev. Nevsky had been shut down under the pressure of the non-aggression pact with the Germans; Semyon Kotko had received blistering reviews; and, far more serious, Prokofiev’s friend and collaborator, Vsevelov Meyerhold, had been arrested (in fact, he’d been secretly executed, although Prokofiev probably didn’t know it). Yet Betrothal in a Monastery , based on Richard Sheridan’s The Duenna , was composed during that gloomy period—and it’s one of Prokofiev’s most wholesomely upbeat works. What explains its character?

In part, I suppose, the familiar conventions of Sheridan’s “champagne” comedy (as the composer put it)—its disguises, its mistaken identities, and its celebration of resourceful young love’s ability to triumph over the lecherous desires of the older generation—offered a magnetic invitation for escape from grim reality back to the cardboard Seville of Mozart’s Figaro and Rossini’s Barber . More important, I suspect, the music has such joie de vivre because it was written under the heady spell of Prokofiev’s first infatuation with his co-librettist, Mira Mendelson. Whatever the explanation, though, this little-known opera is a gem that interleaves the romantic lyricism of Romeo , the fairy-tale sparkle of Cinderella , and a gentler, more humanized version of the tart humor of Love for Three Oranges . From the first scene’s paean to the fish trade (“What kiss on earth can compare with crayfish?”), through the sixth scene’s delightfully off-kilter and oft-interrupted stage music and the seventh scene’s glowing love music, on to the drunken monks at the wedding ceremony in scene 8, the opera is studded with delights. Although there’s a fair amount of conversation between the high points (this production runs for two and a half hours), Prokofiev is so deft at differentiating the speech patterns of his characters that the opera never drags.

The performance is undilutedly first-rate. Gergiev can sometimes be either disengaged or heavy-handed, but this occasion captures him at his most persuasive, alternately luminous and effervescent. He’s supported by a splendid cast. Even more than in Figaro , the action in Betrothal is controlled by the high-spirited women, with the men reduced to bumbling in their wake. Anna Netrebko, as the plucky heroine Louisa, is in superlative voice, dexterously controlled even in the highest registers, hyperactive and honeyed as the situation requires, and entirely endearing throughout. She’s got a perfect foil in Larissa Diadkova, the canny nanny who promotes Louisa’s union with her beloved Don Antonio by concocting a lethal mixture of deception and earthy eroticism to ambush (and ensnare) Antonio’s rival, the rich fish-merchant Mendoza. Nearly as effective is the Clara, Marianna Tarassova, who—in a secondary plot that winds around the main action—is being courted by Louisa’s brother Don Ferdinand: just listen, for example, to her bittersweet longing in scene 7, which builds to a muted ecstasy as she comes to realize that Ferdinand is in fact sincere in his passion.

The pivotal male role is not found among the young lovers, or even in the Ochsian fish merchant angling to catch Louisa: Betrothal gets far more of its character from Louisa’s father, Don Jerome. He’s caught between his self-interested desire to arrange a financially advantageous match and his real, if largely buried, concern for his daughter—and Nikolai Gassiev catches both the fluster and the ultimate affection well. But the other men are solidly cast, too, and throughout the production the ensembles are magnificently balanced. Try, as but one example, the magnificent quartet in scene 5, where Louisa and Antonio soar lyrically over Mendoza’s impotent plotting and his friend Don Carlos’s poignant meditations on growing older. The older Abdulleyev recording was a good one, but it’s seriously outclassed by this one.

An audio-only version of this widely-traveled St. Petersburg production was released five or six years ago; but it’s superseded by this DVD, which also lets us revel in Vladislav Pazi’s brightly colored staging, stylized and slightly abstract in its larger design, yet at the same time voluptuously ornate in its details, all without damping the 18th-century flavor so crucial to the genre. The sound is slightly smoother in PCM stereo than on the DTS surround tracks, but either way, it serves the performance well. Enthusiastically recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Betrothal in a Monastery, Op. 86 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Marianna Tarasova (Mezzo Soprano), Larissa Diadkova (Mezzo Soprano), Anna Netrebko (Soprano),
Nikolai Gassiev (Tenor), Alexandr Gergalov (Baritone), Evgeny Akimov (Tenor)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kirov Theater Orchestra,  Kirov Theater Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940-1941; USSR 

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