This Opéra National de Paris live performance from December, 2005, is the second DVD of Prokofieff's opera The Love for Three Oranges to be issued within a year. The earlier one, on OpusArte, featured mostly French forces, with Martial Defontaine as the Prince, Alain Vernhes as the King, Sandrine Piau as Ninette and Stephane Deneve conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Both recordings are sung in French, although Prokofieff wrote the libretto in Russian. However, for its American première, in Chicago, he made a French-language version of it with the assistance of Vera Janacopoulos.
The opera is a farcical comedy, inspired by comedia dell'arte techniques. Some commentators see it as being in the Offenbach tradition. It is not a deep work, obviously, but for some reason stage directors plumb for all its subtlety, all its wit, all its…well, depth. That's the case here. Stage director Gilbert Deflo inserts all manner of zaniness and absurdities, with stage hands getting in on the action, characters in odd costumes (the giant cook's giant dress is hilarious!), and the imaginative use of color, often a mixture of red, white and black.
The performances by the singers are generally excellent, with Beatrice Uria-Monzon as Fata Morgana, Charles Workman as the Prince and Hannah Esther Minutillo as Clarice turning in especially fine work. But then there's not a weak spot in the cast. Actually, this Prokofieff opera isn't a singer's opera – musically, it's more about Prokofieff's orchestral music than his vocal writing. After all, the most famous number in the opera is the march, which is not sung, and the second most famous is the "Scherzo", also not sung.
So, I guess the crucial question is, what kind of performance does Cambreling draw from his orchestra? The answer is, a fine one: spirited, colorful, exuberant, the playing sparkles throughout. The sound and camera work are excellent, too. This DVD has a bonus feature that is both enjoyable and educational, with the principals in the performance and the stage director commenting on the production and the opera. The informative and engaging Deflo reveals virtually everything behind his performance decisions.
As for which of the two DVDs is the better? I'll have to call it a draw. The OpusArte has a bit more charm, a bit more of a fairy-tale atmosphere (the Prince wears pajamas throughout, as if the whole thing is taking place in a dream world), while this one, also exuding that childlike element, is bolder, more abstract and funnier. The buyer can't go wrong with either one; Prokofieff mavens will want both.
Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings