Monday, May 20, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, L'amour des trois oranges (1921)


Yup, the libretto is in French (wikipedia claims "because Russian would have been unacceptable to American audiences"--da fuq?), and yes, it's called "The love for three oranges." It's based on a faerie tale, but I gather it has its own weirdness to it, and it's a little difficult to describe the plot without sounding like you're having a stroke: first, there's an audience arguing over whether they want to see a tragedy or comedy or what. Then the action starts, and there's a hypochondriac prince, the son of the King of Clubs. He has to be made to laugh or he'll die, but there are schemers trying to stop this from happening, at least in part by reciting bad poetry to him, so they can take the throne, supported by a sorceress, Fata Morgana. The king decides to have a carnival to make the prince laugh, with the help of a clown, Truffaldino. It seems like it's not going well, but then Fata Morgana has a pratfall and the prince laughs at her, so she curses him by making him obsessed with a love for three oranges. This works immediately, and he drags Truffaldino off with him to look for the oranges, which are in a witch's lair. So they outwit the witch's cook (a woman played by a baritone--a reverse trouser role?) and get the oranges and escape. The oranges keep getting bigger until they hatch one by one into faerie princesses, the first two of which die of thirst, it being a desert (surprisingly morbid). But the audience gives the prince water to save the third one, and in spite of some scheming, the day is saved. The conspirators are going to be executed, but Fata Morgana spirits them away. That is all.

Wikipedia quotes some baffled initial reviews: "The work is intended, one learns, to poke fun. As far as I am able to discern, it pokes fun chiefly at those who paid money for it." I wouldn't say that, but I have to admit...I didn't love this. That same wikipedia article calls it "satirical," but I would be hard-pressed to say what it's satirizing, exactly. I still like Prokofiev's music a lot; let there be no doubt about that. And yet, somehow, this was not my all-time favorite thing. Maybe it should be; I liked The Nose well enough, so obviously I don't need an opera to have a plot that makes sense or is emotionally involving. But...I don't know. This production is a reasonable thing, minimalistic in a way that suits the absurd story, but do I have anything much to say about it? I feel like I really just wanted to register that I did in fact see it.

Also, there's a bit where the villains replace the princess with the conspirators' servant, who it looks like he's going to have to marry. "A negress!" he shouts in despair. Which...hum.

6 Comments:

Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

Hum... Your description of the plot alone makes me want to see it... Sad to hear it's not as good as plot promises.


As for being satirical... Maybe the entire fact that the audiance is braking the 4'wall (from what I understant) counts. Honestly I meet with things called "satirical" depsite the fact the satrical elements are only like 5% of the story so this might be the case.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown pontificated to the effect that...

Darn it! For some reason It called me "Uknown". It obivously me - Pan Miluś/Maciej Kur ;)

8:35 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

wikipedia claims "because Russian would have been unacceptable to American audiences"--da fuq?

In those days, French still had a bit of its ‘lingua franca’ glory of ages past; most educated elites in the Western world (American included) understood some French. Whethereas extremely few Americans spoke Russian… obviously.

Though kind of obvious, it may be worthy to remind ourselves that this was before subtitles.

12:38 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

Well, I don't think anyone had any problem with Italian or German opera, so I don't know about that.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon pontificated to the effect that...

Still more people knew German and Italian than Russian. Still do today, in fact.

12:33 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

Not true, according to some quick googling. But I really don't think this has anything to do with comprehensibility. If you didn't know an opera's language but wanted to understand what was happening back in the day, you had to study the libretto in advance, and that's still true in a lot of opera houses. I think the problem was just that Americans thought of Russian as weird and foreign and unappealing.

6:28 PM  

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