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Prokofiev: The Love For Three Oranges / Vernhes, Defontaine

Prokofiev / Vernhes / Defontaine / Le Roux
Release Date: 09/26/2006 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 957  
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Sergei KomovMartial DefontaineAlain VernhesSandrine Piau,   ... 
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera ChorusRotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Length: 2 Hours 25 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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PROKOFIEV The Love for Three Oranges Stéphane Denève, cond; Alain Vernhes ( King of Clubs ); Martial Defontaine ( Prince ); Natscha Petrinsky ( Clarice ); Sandrine Piau ( Princess Ninette ); François Le Roux ( Leandre
Read more ); Sergei Khomov ( Trouffaldino/Master of Ceremonies ); Marcel Boone ( Pantalon ); Willard White ( Tchélio ); Anna Shafajinskaja ( Fata Morgana ); Sylvia Kevorkian ( Linette ); Richard Angas ( Cook ); Alexander Vassiliev ( Fanfarello/Herald ); Marianna Kulikova ( Sméraldine ); Jana Joná?ová ( Esmeralda ); Rotterdam PO; Netherlands Op Ch BBC/OPUS ARTE 957 (2 DVDs: 144:00) Live: Rotterdam 2006

The Love for Three Oranges is an exceptionally difficult opera to produce well. It could legitimately be called the demon spawn of the Soviet constructivist and French 1920s avant-garde movements: a huge nose-thumbing, backhanded swipe at multiple operatic and theatrical forms from Verdi to Wagner to Mussorgsky, from farce to heroics to tragedy. But all this musical exuberance requires its visual equivalent, and that’s difficult to manage without a great deal of money, time, and a unifying, style-informed vision.

To bind all its diversity together, stage designer Laurent Pelly created a unifying theme of cards; perfectly natural in an opera that begins and concludes at the King of Clubs’s court. Huge playing card fronts and backs, over 30 feet high, are used to create static backdrops or moving labyrinths—and at the conclusion of one scene, furnish an appropriate metaphor of the King’s crumbling dynastic hopes as a house-of-mammoth-cards collapses. Enormous curled cards form sand dunes and cave recesses in a desert. Several monstrously large card boxes furnish the hypochondriac Prince with a refuge where he hides, warms himself by a fire, and gathers his medicine bottles. The stage blocking around, through, over, and under everything was handled effectively.

Pelly also acted as costume designer, with results that tally well with his stage vision of the opera. The King of Club’s court is dressed in individually distinctive suits and gowns of black and white, always featuring clubs in some fashion as an emblem. The interfering groups of spectators (Tragedians, Comedians, etc) are dressed as audience members, while the Eccentrics and Truffaldino are presented as outsiders: ragtag, hapless, directionally challenged misfits that could have stepped out of Waiting for Godot.

Above all, this production is notable for its visual high spirits that reinforce Prokofiev’s music and the manic Meyerhold/Gozzi libretto. Sergei Khomov (Trouffaldino) displays a wonderfully frenetic comic identity; François Le Roux (Leandre) is the cliché of a scheming, villainous Prime Minister personified. Alain Vernhes’s King is half monarch, half pouting child, and slithering Anna Shafajinskaja (Fata Morgana) in her skintight red dress brings to mind Fellini’s examples of extravagant feminism. The three Princesses literally pop out of the core of their human-sized oranges, and the Prince’s doctors are white-coated lab scientists all too ready to present their evaluations and bills. This is also the only stage production I’ve seen that brings the conductor into the action that works (and very well, indeed). Many others have tried. All of those I’ve seen have died.

Taken by itself, the conducting and singing (in the original French) are neither as intense nor as powerful as the currently deleted Dahlgat/Moscow Radio Orchestra version, nor as finely interpreted as in Nagano/Opéra de Lyon (Virgin 58694; I’ve not seen the DVD release of that production, but individual images of it look very dull). Denève in particular undercuts the musical satire, invariably smoothing out the harsher, more sardonic elements in the opera. Everybody is effective in their respective parts, however, with exceptionally high energy levels. You can tell when a company doesn’t buy into the stage designer’s vision, and conversely, when the cast believes they’re onto a winner. The latter is clearly the case, here.

The visuals are presented in a 16:9 anamorphic ratio, with subtitles available in English, Dutch, Spanish, German, French, and Italian. Sound choices are Stereo and DTS Surround. The Stereo option puts the singers at a very slight disadvantage when compared to the orchestra, but that balance issue vanished in DTS Surround. One extra feature that’s provided is worthy of the name: a 25-minute behind-the-scenes piece. Some of the cast members actually make good points about the production, and Pelly is especially revealing. But the best element of this shows scene constructors at work, the elaborate mobile sets in development, and the electronic equipment used to control it all.

Highly recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
REGIONS: All Regions
PICTURE FORMAT: 16:9 widescreen
LENGTH: 145 Mins
SUBTITLES: English/French/German/Spanish/Italian/Dutch Read less

Works on This Recording

Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Sergei Komov (Tenor), Martial Defontaine (Tenor), Alain Vernhes (Bass),
Sandrine Piau (Soprano), Willard White (Bass)
Conductor:  Stéphane Denève
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Opera Chorus,  Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919; USA 

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