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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Betrothal in a Monastery - lyric comedy in four acts
(Text by the composer and M. Mendelson after Richard
Brinsley Sheridan’s The Duenna 1775)
(sop) - Louisa, daughter of Don Jerome
Larissa Diadkova (mezzo) - The Duenna to Don Jerome
Nikolai Gassiev (ten) - Don Jerome, father of Louisa and
Aleksander Gergalov (bar) - Don Ferdinand, son of Don Jerome
Marianna Tarassova (mezzo) - Clara, sequestered daugher of
a wealthy family
Yevgeny Akimov (ten) - Don Antonio, a poor musician
Sergei Aleksashkin (bass) - Isaac Mendoza, rich fish merchant
Yuri Shkliar (bass) - Don Carlos, impoverished nobleman,
friend of Mendoza
Kirov Orchestra, Opera Chorus and Ballet/Valery Gergiev
Stage Director - Vladislav Pazi
Video Director - Aarno Cronvall
rec. live, 1998, Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Menu Screens and Notes in English.
Subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese.
DVD 9, 16 x 9 anamorphic, NTSC region 0 (all regions).
dts 5.0 surround, LPCM 2.0 sound.
Co-produced by Decca, Euro-Arts, NHK
PHILIPS 0743076 [157.00]
The subtitle to Sheridan’s play, “Double Elopement” gives
away the gimmick of the plot, a predictable comedy of forbidden
love and mistaken identities. The scene is, of course, Seville.
Don Jerome has promised his beautiful daughter Louisa to
the rich and ugly - and probably smelly - fish merchant Isaac
Mendoza. Beautiful Louisa is in love with poor but handsome
and honest Antonio. Ferdinand is in love with Clara, but
her wealthy stepmother keeps her locked up. Both girls run
away, meet their lovers at a convent, and are married at
a monastery. In the meantime, the Duenna, dressed in Louisa’s
clothes, has got the rich Mendoza to think she is Louisa
and to propose to her, and they show up at the monastery,
too, in time for a triple ceremony. The dénouement occurs
at the final party where Don Jerome thinks his daughter has
married Mendoza and Mendoza thinks he has married Louisa
and there is much Rossinian carrying on. Don Jerome ends
up with a poor son-in-law instead of a rich merchant, but
it turns out that daughter-in-law Clara is richer than Mendoza,
so he figures he did a little better as things turned out
and everybody is happy.
The plot turns on the strict marriage customs
of the Spanish upper classes in keeping their marriageable
daughters shut away from all company until a favorable marriage
is arranged. As a result, Mendoza has never seen Louisa close
up and is easily deceived by the Duenna. Louisa and Antonio
are happy young lovers who make a game out of deceiving Don
Jerome. A note of seriousness is introduced by the Ferdinand/Clara
romance, for neither of them is young; the very proper Ferdinand
has pined for the very proper Clara for years and when he
is too aggressive in finally approaching her, she is obliged
to reject him out of honor. Fortunately they both come to
realize that they have no more time to waste and are happily
joined. Don Carlos philosophizes sadly on all that he has
lost urging the others to be happy while they can. Mendoza
is obviously a Jewish character, but the satire is gentle
and affectionate; in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, he
would sing the patter song and he ends up marrying the huge
I make much of the story because this is really
a play set to music, rather in the Monteverdi mode. The acting
is excellent, everyone staying fully in character, even in
the many close-ups, and singing their lines with great affect
and enthusiasm. There are no recitatives or da capo arias,
but there are melodic solos, and several wonderful and colorful
ballets as Seville prepares for Carnival. The Kirov dancers
are typically magnificent and in the traditional characters — Arlecchina,
the Persian dancers, the torero and the ballerina — they
symbolically enact the main drama.
The play by Sheridan (1751-1816) was originally
presented in 1775 at Drury Lane and at Covent Garden as an
opera set to music by Thomas Linley (1756-1778) whose death
at the age of 22 terminated a promising musical career. The
play is clearly ancestral to the Gilbertian librettos of
the next century, and some of the plot and dialogue was borrowed
from William Wycherley's “Country Wife” (1675). It is also
said that the scene with the friars in the monastery is borrowed
from “Marmontel, or some other French author.”*
The adaptation by Prokofiev himself and his second
wife Mira Mendelson follows the original fairly closely,
although in the Prokofiev libretto we never learn that the
Duenna’s name is Margaret. But Prokofiev’s vision has little
of Gilbert or Sullivan about it, it is a funny story with
all its human dimensions intact, presented here with exquisite
skill and craftsmanship.
Netrebko looks utterly gorgeous and sings beautifully.
The crafty Don Jerome and the equally crafty Duenna are wonderfully
acted and sung with great sympathy and gusto. It must be
pointed out again that the camera is often very close up
on them and their characterizations survive this scrutiny
perfectly intact. It is difficult to recognize Diadkova from
the many very serious roles she has sung so intensely, she
mugs her comic part so broadly. She is a handsome woman but
pads her costume to comic proportions for this role.
This work is unique among Prokofiev’s operas,
having none of the brittle satire of Love for Three Oranges,
the heavy-handed political message of Semyon Kotko,
or the terror and violence of Fiery Angel. This is
a gentle story, almost Mozartean in its compassion for human
frailty; Prokofiev’s mood may have been affected by the collapse
of his first marriage in divorce and his recent marriage
to his co-writer, Mira Mendelson Prokofieva. She introduced
her husband to the music of Mahler. A decade later they collaborated
on the scenario for the Stone Flower producing Prokofiev’s
final and still unappreciated masterpiece.
Video production is excellent, meeting the strict
standard: you are always looking just where you want to,
you can always see just what needs to be seen. Everything
is clear and in focus and correctly illuminated. The picture
looks excellent in every way viewed on my high resolution
computer screen, but up-sampled to 1080p and viewed full
screen at 16x9 on a 42 inch LCD screen, the video is very
rich in tone but not awfully sharp; the sound is excellent.
comments, published 1807.
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