Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, Betrothal in a Monastery (1946)


This is interesting, because it's clearly an intentional effort on Prokofiev's part to write in the classic opera buffa mode, like Mozart's Da Ponte collabs. The fact that it takes place in Seville (although it still feels distinctly Russian, at least in this production) seems to be a none-too-subtle nod in this direction.

As such, the plot is a very standard comic-opera thing: Louisa's father Don Jerome wants her to marry a goofy but rich fish merchant, but she's in love with the penniless but noble Don Antonio. Meanwhile her brother, Don Ferdinand, is in love with Clara, who is being kept as a virtual prisoner by her family. Can disguises and false identities save the day? Will everyone end up with the proper partner? And will there be drunken monks to remind you that in spite of its pedigree, this is still a Russian opera? That...you must find out for yourself!

Prokofiev's music is really fun and sometimes mesmerizing. The subject matter may tempt you to compare it to Mozart, which won't do it any favors, but it's still really good. The actual presentation of the material though...well, it's also not exactly Figaro level, which is a bit more a problem. Even in operatic terms, the characters are REALLY not well-delineated, and neither of the romances is convincing. Also, Clara? The woman allegedly being kept as a virtual prisoner? We never SEE her as a prisoner or learn anything about her family, so it's a bit of a fizzle. Don't get me wrong; I still enjoyed it overall. But you can see why it's not as famous as some of its inspirations.

It's a 1998 Mariinsky Theatre production, and as with Sadko, it was impressive. A lot of very extravagant costumes and pageantry that firmly situate it as a Russian thing in spite of the putative setting. The cast was also very good. The highlight for me was Nikolai Gassiev as Don Jerome, making the most of a somewhat limited comic role. Everyone was fine, though, including--a bit of a surprise--a young, pre-international-fame Anna Netrebko as Louisa. I also want to give a shout-out to Vladimir Vaneev as the head monk--not that it's a particularly meaty role, but I was really impressed with him as the father-in-law from Hell in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, so I was just glad to see him again.  There was really only one problem here, which wasn't with the production: on that youtube version, after about forty minutes or so, the subtitles become out-of-sync with the audio, appearing too early.  You can still follow it, but it's more annoying than you might think.  It's particularly bad in the last scene; it's no biggie because you certainly know what's happening, but matching specific lines to specific people becomes kind of impossible.  OH WELL.

Anyway, pretty okay. I'll probably watch more Prokofiev.

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