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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Betrothal in a Monastery - lyric comedy in four acts (1940) [157.00]
(Text by the composer and M. Mendelson after Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Duenna 1775)
Anna Netrebko (sop) - Louisa, daughter of Don Jerome
Larissa Diadkova (mezzo) - The Duenna to Don Jerome
Nikolai Gassiev (ten) - Don Jerome, father of Louisa and Ferdinand
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 contralto.
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.
*Unattributed comments, published 1807.
Paul Shoemaker


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