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Love for Three Oranges
Soloists, Kirov Chorus and Orchestra
Conducted by Valery Gergiev
PHILIPS 462 913-2 [101.58]
Crotchet    Amazon UK    Amazon US

This 'Opera in a prologue and five acts' is the latest in Gergiev's superlative traversal of Prokofiev's complete works for the stage with his Kirov Opera for Philips. Recorded live in the fine acoustic of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw in 1997 and 1998 and with a vocal cast made up almost entirely of native Russian singers, this release has been anticipated with understandable impatience and enthusiasm. Make no mistake the wait has been thoroughly worthwhile, this is as fine a recording of Prokofiev's most popular operatic masterpiece as one could imagine.

Composed whilst Prokofiev was on his way from Russia to the United States at the end of the First World War and shortly after the Russian Revolution, Love for Three Oranges was completed in the USA in 1919 for a proposed production in Chicago, which was delayed for over a year due to the death of the director of the opera company. Much has been written about Prokofiev's choice of French for the language of the initial performances. He originally wrote the opera to his own Russian language libretto, but, always the realist, he hedged his bets by making a French version with an eye to the likelihood of Paris soon taking up the opera, as the most free thinking city in Europe. As English would not have been an acceptable language for the traditionally minded stateside audiences and Russian politically suicidal, he felt that French would also fit the bill nicely there and match the post romantic and satirical nature of the work. It is something of an irony that Paris was not to see a production of L'Amour des Trois Oranges until five years after his death. Of the many strengths this new version has over the previous 1989 recording in French from Kent Nagano and Lyon Opera, the generally perceived importance of Russian over French is not really of such great import. It is, however, wonderful to hear these hand picked voices bringing an extra sense of provocation and danger (in addition to the easily perceived pantomime humour) in the Russian language over the more cosmopolitan sounds of the French, something Prokofiev the realist must, at heart, have known all along.

At this time of his life, Prokofiev was very much a composer determined to bring change to what he perceived as a tired and outmoded art form. He found the naturalistic approach taken, for example, by Stanislavsky at the Moscow Arts Theatre to be at odds with the new world of post war and post revolutionary western culture. He delighted in abandoning the aria and, indeed, goes so far as to mutilate the opera's only love scene by introducing brusquely irrelevant comments from the Greek-style commenting chorus who bring matters also to a halt. Taking his cue from commedia dell'arte the opera is a whirlwind which never lets up for a moment. The humour is real (witness the laughter to be heard from a highly attentive and thankfully cough free audience) but its sardonic nature is reinforced with some wonderfully telling changes of pace and brilliant orchestration.

The soloists are all superb and Gergiev conducts with remarkable fluency and a firm sense of direction. One hopes that a video from Philips from the original Mariinsky production may also be on its way, otherwise the Lyon Opera video is well worth seeking out, as Love for Three Oranges, more than many other twentieth century operas, really needs to be seen as well as heard.

This is one of those occasions where one can only suggest, in the most positive of ways, that anyone who knows only the famous March from Love for Three Oranges or even all of Prokofiev's orchestral suite, should raid the piggy bank and purchase this marvellous 2 CD set without delay.


Simon Foster

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