Prokofiev opera The Love for Three Oranges Op. 33 is generally regarded as a masterpiece of the twentieth century opera. This new and brilliant DVD version of the opera is from a 2005 performance at the De Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam. Until now, the only DVD for this opera was an Arthaus DVD of an opera film that uses as soundtrack the very good Nagano recording, with singers performing lip synchronization. Let me say, that for my taste, the new Opus Arte DVD is vastly superior as a whole theatrical experience and it is currently first choice for this opera on DVD.
The stage director and designer of the Dutch production is the young French director Laurent Pelly. There are other four opera productions of his on DVD. All are really knockouts: Rameau's Platee, and Offenbach's Orphee aux enfers, La belle Helene and La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein (all conducted by Marc Minkowski). The high level of inspiration of this very talented director is evident here too: this is a fascinating show with some spectacular set pieces.
One of the major figures in the opera is the King of Clubs. In the second scene of act one there is a card game between the wizard Chelio (Sir Wilard White, impressive as ever) and the evil magician Fata Morgana (the very funny Anna Shafajinskaja). So almost all the scenery is made of huge cards that are moving on stage and are forming all kinds of shapes and labyrinths. Parts of the costumes are made of cards too, like the funny skirts a few dancers are wearing while they try to amuse the depressed prince. This is a mercurial and colorful production. There is never a dull moment. It is very hard to describe it. It really should be seen!
The musical side of the production is no less successful. Stéphane Denève (a name new to me) conducts the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In an interview that is added to the show, the conductor discusses the difficulties in the conducting of a piece like this, where everything happens so quickly, so one has to be very accurate and efficient in the coordination between the orchestra and the vast cast. Denève is doing a great job. There is all the raw energy, prickliness and acidulous satire that you expect from an early Prokofiev work.
The playing of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra is truly amazing. The orchestra played a lot with Valery Gergiev, so they definitely know how this kind of music should sound. I was especially impressed with the brilliant brass playing. The second time I watched the DVD, I listened with my earphones. It is a constant joy to listen to Prokofiev's brilliant use of the lower brass. I think that tuba players have to thank him...
The Love for Three Oranges is an opera with a relatively huge cast. It does not needs great voices like the ones needed in Verdi, Puccini or Wagner. But it needs great actors. All the singers in this production are really excellent in this aspect. The opera is sung in the original French. The existence of a few native speakers here ensures perfect pronunciation: Martial Defontaine is the Prince; Alain Vernhes is his father, the King. The wonderful Sandrine Piau is the Princess Ninette. Francois Le Roux is the Prime Minister Leandre. From the other singers, Serghei Khomov especially impressed me as an outstanding Truffaldino and Richard Angas as the hilarious gigantic cook (Wow, what an outfit...)
Technical quality is first class. I warmly recommend it to everyone who loves modern opera, and in particular to any Prokofiev fans.