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Prokofiev, Betrothal in a Monastery : Orchestra Comunitat Valenciana. Chorus Generalitat Valenciana. Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski. Palau de les Arts de Valencia. 30.1.2008. (JMI)

Production from Glyndebourne Opera Festival
Director: Daniel Slater
Sets and Costumes: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting: Rick Fisher


Don Jerónimo: Viacheslav Voynarovsky
Mendoza: Vladimir Matorin
Luisa: Lyubov Petrova
Don Antonio. Vsevolod Grivnov
La Duenna: Alexandra Durseneva
Clara: Katherine Rohrer
Don Fernando: Ales Jenis
Don Carlos: Ventseslav Anastasov
Prior: Valeri Ivanov

If I am not mistaken this very enjoyable Prokofiev’s opera has not been performed in Spain since 1981, when the company from the then-named Kirov Theater, under the leadership of Yuri Temirkanov performed several Russian operas in Madrid’s  Teatro de la Zarzuela. I had the opportunity to attend one of those performances of this Prokofiev opera and I still remember how fascinated I was with it, since it was then totally unknown to me. I had the occasion years later to see it again with the same company (already the Mariinsky) and with Valery Gergiev as its leader, together with a youngster and almost unknown Anna Netrebko singing Luisa.  I was again fascinated by the opera and so I came to Valencia with high expectations from seeing the work, outside of the control of the above mentioned giants of Russian opera. I must say that once again I was more than pleased when leaving the theatre.

Betrothal in a Monastery is a delicious comedy of love affairs, full of humor and originality. This actually may be the reason why has taken so long to become widely  known, since its premiere was supposed to take place in 1941, just the  year of the Nazi invasion of Russia, and seems unlikely that this type of opera was the particularly suitable for that circumstance. More than 60 years after its actual premier in 1946 in Saint Petersburg, I am convinced that this opera is going to become more and more frequent in the main opera houses because audiences really enjoy it.

The production comes from Glyndebourne with stage direction by Daniel Slater. Perhaps I should begin by saying that this is a highly original production, because the action is not transferred anywhere peculiar or to another time period, which nowadays really is something unusual.  This is a lyric comedy and Slater understands it fully from the first moment, with quick changes of scene, from a large Seville fish market, to  Don Jerónimo's over ornate  and amusing house and to finally to the lively scene of the Monastery complete with boozing  monks. Both sets and costumes are attractive and are put to the service of fun and good taste simultaneously. The action never stops for a moment and there is outstanding direction of the  performers. This is a traditional and amusing performance  that proves that rejecting what the libretto says is unnecessary. Following the text closely can really produce results, as  Mr Slater proves.

I suppose that the ideal intention of the Palau de les  Arts management would have been to invite  Vladimir Jurowski to conduct this opera, since as most every opera lover knows,  he has been Musical Director of the Glyndebourne Festival, where the production comes from. But we didn't get Vladimir, though we did have aJurowski as conductor, his younger  brother  Dmitri who already has a good career at 28. It seems that the children of Michail Jurowski have a common quality of musical precociousness. This is not an wasy opera to conduct this opera and the younger Jurowski had a more than promising debut in Valencia. Without doubt he too is someone of great promise. He conducted with a great sense of rhythm and he got a very good performance from Valencia's outstanding Orchestra.

Russian tenor Viacheslav Voynarovsky made a convincing Don Jerónimo, amusing, without exaggerating the character. The scene where he conducts a trio of musicians  in his house was particularly enjoyable even though he is more character-actor  than singer.

Mendoza, the fish merchant, was Vladimir Matorin, who gave a performance that would be difficult to improve. With a sonorous and rich voice, this great actor he was the focus attention of the opera. If in Madrid's Teatro Real he was a text-book Varlaam, the same can be said here of his Mendoza. As Luisa, Don Jerónimo’s daughter, soprano Lyubov Petrova, was very creditable and suited to the role. It fits her like a glove, since normally her biggest problem is that her high notes are sometimes shrill, whereas Luisa is based in the middle of the vocal range. She looks good too and is remarkable on stage. Her lover Don Antonio was tenor Vsevolod Grivnov, who was completely correct, although I prefer him in a more serious repertoire, where his voice can shine more.

The Duenna, the  character giving the title to the original comedy on which this opera is based, was the seasoned mezzo Alexandra Durseneva, who is also a real singing actress and the American mezzo ( a rara avis in this cast) Katherine Rohrer made a personable Clara de Almansa, of Luisa's friend. She has a very pleasant middle register, something short of volume and giving the impression to be tightened high above. Ales Jenis was a perfectly suitable Don Fernando, brother of Luisa and in love with Clara. He is a light baritone with a pleasant voice, but without esxceptional  interest. Don Carlos, Mendoza's companion was another baritone Ventseslav Anastasov, brother of the better known Orlin Anastasov. He seems to have taken up residence in Valencia, as this season he is also singing Escamillo and Posa.  The monks were a group of outstanding singing actors. Valeri Ivanov was a sonorous Augustinian Father and  Rocío Martinez was very funny indeed in her short interventions as Laurita.

As is normal for an unknown opera here, the theater  had some empty seats. There were huge ovations for all the artists, particularly for  Matorin, Petrova and Dmitri Jurowski.

José M. Irurzun

Pictures © Palau de les Arts de Valencia

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