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Prokofiev: The Gambler / Gergiev, Galuzin, Aleksashkin, Mariinsky Theater

Prokofiev / Mariinsky Orchestra / Gergiev
Release Date: 06/11/2013 
Label:  Mariinsky (Dvd)   Catalog #: 536  
Composer:  Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Vladimir GalouzineAndrei PopovTatiana PavlovskayaAlexandr Gergalov,   ... 
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Also available on Blu-ray

Filmed in the historic Mariinsky Theatre in 2010, Prokofiev's The Gambler stars celebrated Russian tenor Vladimir Galuzin and bass Sergei Aleksashkin, and is conducted by Valery Gergiev. It is of fundamental significance that under Gergiev’s baton the Mariinsky Orchestra and opera company have performed all of Prokofiev’s symphonies, concerti and operas on numerous occasions.

Georgian stage director Temur Chkheidze, who also presented the Mariinsky’s last production in 1996 and directed the opera with critical success at the Metropolitan Opera in 2001, gives a fresh look to Prokofiev’s first opera. Set in the fictional town
Read more of Roulettenburg in the mid-19th Century, The Gambler is a four-act opera that displays the dramatic highs and lows involved in the game of chance. At the centre of the story is Alexei, who is in love with The General’s step-daughter, Pauline. All of the characters fall victim to the temptation of gambling, each one consumed by the obsession and greed that drives them.

Vladimir Galuzin, who plays the role of Alexei, is indisputably one of the world’s leading dramatic tenors, known for his unrivaled stentorious voice and extremely vivid characterizations of some of the most demanding roles. A Mariinsky soloist since 1990, he is much in demand internationally, performing regularly during the last two decades as a guest of most of the world’s most prominent opera houses, concert halls and festivals.

The role of The General is played by Russian bass Sergei Aleksashkin. Three-time recipient of the Golden Sofit, St Petersburg’s most prestigious theatre prize, Sergei has been a Mariinsky Theatre soloist since 1989, singing title roles in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov and Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila.

Duration 126 minutes
Recorded at the historic Mariinsky theatre, June 2010
Laurent Gentot film director
Performed in Russian: subtitles – Russian, English, Japanese, German and French

R E V I E W: 3732190.az_PROKOFIEV_Gambler_Valery_Gergiev.html

PROKOFIEV The Gambler Valery Gergiev, cond; Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Polina); Nadezhda Serdiuk (Blanche); Larisa Diadkova (Babulenka); Vladimir Galuzin (Aleksei); Nikolai Gassiev (Marquis); Aleksandr Gergalov (Mr. Astley); Sergei Aleksashkin (General); Mariinsky Ch & O MARIINSKY 0536 (DVD: 126:00) Live: St. Petersburg 6/17, 21/2010

The first time I saw Prokofiev’s The Gambler (Igrok) on stage was in Moscow in the autumn of 1974. I had arrived there as an exchange student and was eager to attend performances of Russian opera at the Bolshoi Theater. In those bygone Soviet days, Bolshoi tickets were very cheap but difficult to obtain for ordinary people without strings to pull. Foreigners, of course, could buy in hotels or tourist offices for hard currency. But for some reason, tickets to The Gambler were readily available at a kiosk in Moscow University, where I was headquartered. The explanation? Few people wanted to see it. More than a half-century after its composition, Prokofiev’s early opera, which had been staged for the first time in Russia a few months before this, was apparently too harsh, dissonant, and lacking in traditional vocal lyricism to appeal to the prevailing conservative taste. Little did that unappreciative public know that what they were being offered was actually somewhat toned down from what Prokofiev originally wrote. He completed the opera in 1917, but the initial resistance of singers to this unfamiliar idiom, followed by the turmoil of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, prevented performance. The premiere did not take place until 1929, and not in Russia but in Brussels. By that time, the composer had extensively revised the work, and it is the revision that has almost always been performed and recorded since then, and that Gergiev uses here. The Bolshoi did revive the original version in 2001, under the leadership of the redoubtable Gennady Rozhdestvensky, and a live recording of this production was issued on the Exton label. That recording is apparently available only in Japan, where those interested may acquire it for a hefty price. In addition to differences in the libretto (expanded in the revision) and in orchestration, the original is still more declamatory in style, the revision free-flowing and almost mellifluous by comparison.

The opera, based on a novel by Dostoevsky, is set in the mythical European gambling resort of Roulettenburg in the mid-19th century. Aleksei, a well-educated but impecunious young nobleman, is employed as a tutor by the General and is seemingly obsessed equally by his love for the General’s stepdaughter Polina and his love of gambling. The General has lost large sums at the gambling table and is heavily in debt to the unscrupulous Marquis. He is eagerly awaiting the death of his wealthy Moscow aunt, Babulenka, in the expectation of an inheritance that will allow him to clear his debts and marry his fiancée Blanche, an alluring but mercenary young woman in search of a wealthy husband. But instead of dying, Babulenka turns up in Roulettenburg and proceeds to gamble away her entire fortune. The General is ruined and is abandoned by Blanche. Aleksei goes to the casino and wins a huge sum. He intends to use his winnings to help Polina to pay off a debt to the Marquis, but on returning with the money he seems totally immersed in his gambling triumph and at first barely notices her. When he does offer her the money, she, having been the Marquis’s mistress, feels that she is again being bought, throws the money back in Aleksei’s face, and runs out. Initially distraught, Aleksei turns with surprising speed back to pleasurable thoughts of his success as a gambler.

This Mariinsky production, designed by Temur Chkheidze, offers a modern staging, but not one that distorts the work, clutters it with superfluous gimmickry, or overlays it with an extraneous concept. Stage sets are spare and surrealistic, but costumes are generally consistent with the 19th-century setting. This is the second time Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky forces have recorded the work. Their 1996 CD recording, issued under the company’s former name Kirov, has been reissued in a 14-disc Decca set containing seven Prokofiev operas. The original Philips two-disc set is also available as an on-demand reissue from ArkivMusic. Three of the principal cast members repeat their roles in the new video release, including Vladimir Galuzin as the obsessive Aleksei, Sergei Aleksashkin as the General, and Nikolai Gassiev as the Marquis. With his receding hairline and slightly baritonal tenor, Galuzin both looks and sounds a bit elderly for what is supposed to be a 25-year-old character, but his voice has lost none of its strength, smoothness, and tonal solidity in the intervening years, and the tonal weight he is able to deploy imparts an almost heroic quality to the role. He persuasively conveys the character’s rapidly shifting moods and almost deranged agitation without caricature. Aleksashkin and Gassiev, too, have suffered no loss of vocal quality and are completely convincing in their roles, Aleksashkin offering a comparatively dignified portrayal, not exaggerating the ridiculousness of his character. As Polina, Tatiana Pavlovskaya is captivating, by turns provocative, vulnerable, and tragic, and it is easy to understand why Aleksei is so obsessed with her. Larisa Diadkova, as Babulenka, may not be as formidable as Elena Obraztsova in the previous Mariinsky recording, but her tone is smoother and better focused, and she makes the imperious old lady seem rather charming. According to another reviewer, Diadkova shows that “being confined to a wheelchair is no impediment to some old-fashioned overacting.” I see no overacting, although the libretto states that Babulenka should be carried around in an armchair by her servants, not pushed in a wheelchair. Aleksandr Gergalov is suave and vocally authoritative as Aleksei’s English confidant, Mr. Astley. Gergiev’s leadership seems unerring, a bit more relaxed and less driven than in the earlier recording but forceful, surging, and elastic. The stage direction is very convincing and dramatically cogent. Overall, this is a gripping, involving performance.

The stereo sound quality is excellent, full, smooth, and vivid. The voices are very clear, well focused, and free from excessive reverberation. The brilliant sound and wide dynamic range do full justice to Prokofiev’s colorful orchestral score. Reviewers of the Philips series of Russian-opera recordings under Gergiev sometimes complained about their sound quality, attributing those deficiencies to the allegedly poor acoustics of the Mariinsky Theater. Having attended numerous performances there in the 1970s and 1980s, I categorically deny that the acoustics are poor, although those Philips recordings did exhibit shortcomings in sound quality. (The Philips recording of The Gambler, however, was made not in St. Petersburg but in Hilversum, in the Netherlands.) In any case, the present release gives no sign of such acoustic problems. I do not have a multi-channel system, but for those who do, this DVD offers 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and 5.1 DTS. The sharp and clear picture quality leaves nothing to be desired. One hardly notices the camera work, which is a sign of its unobtrusive effectiveness.

Competition for this release is limited. A 1966 Soviet film version on the Capriccio label, conducted by Rozhdestvensky, is available in Europe but is heavily cut. As sometimes occurs in such films, the opera is chopped up and the pieces put back together in a different order. The English subtitles are frequently inaccurate, sometimes blatantly so. On the C Major label, Daniel Barenboim leads a Berlin production that has been favorably assessed in Fanfare and elsewhere. I haven’t seen it, but published descriptions indicate that it transfers the action to the 21st century and sets it in a garish modern hotel. I’ve made clear in the past that I have no use for such updating, which I consider pointless and destructive. According to one review, the director, Dmitri Tcherniakov, “has chosen to mirror the capitalist excesses of our day.” Sorry, but the work is not about the capitalist excesses of our day, and I find this tendentious Regietheater approach to opera staging unacceptable. The Mariinsky release is my unhesitating choice, and as far as I am concerned the only video choice, for this compelling and powerful opera.

FANFARE: Daniel Morrison
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Works on This Recording

Gambler, Op. 24 by Sergei Prokofiev
Performer:  Vladimir Galouzine (Tenor), Andrei Popov (Tenor), Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Soprano),
Alexandr Gergalov (Baritone), Nadezda Serdyuk (Mezzo Soprano), Larissa Dyadkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Nikolai Gassiev (Tenor), Sergei Aleksashkin (Bass)
Conductor:  Valery Gergiev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1917/1928; USSR 

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