3.23.2012

Upon Watching The Love for Three Oranges

Even though Opera History class is over, I must say that I've warmed to the genre. I especially am drawn to twentieth century operas which break the old Italian opera seria mold. Hence I watched a 1989 production of Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges by the Opera National de Lyons. Think Boccaccio's Decameron meets Shostakovich's The Nose meets Monty Python's Spamalot.

Prokofiev - The Love for Three Oranges / Nagano, Opera National de Lyon
Firstly, this opera is a veritable smorgasbord of linguistic delights: A Russian composer used a French libretto of a translated Italian play of a Neapolitan dialect story presented to an English-speaking American audience. Secondly, the fairy tale aspect comes into stark and ironic play. The play (by Carlo Gozzi) came from Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone, a frame-story fairy tale collection, highly respected and lauded by the Brother's Grimm. The story concerns a laconic, hypochondriac Prince who can only be cured by laughing. When he finally does at the expense of the evil witch, he is cursed to fall in love with three oranges. Yeah, the fruit. (Apparently there are variants of this story where he falls for pomegranates, nectarines, or some other citrus.) Joined by the Jester on his quest, the Prince overcomes the hideous giantess Cook (sung by a bass) with the help of a wizard and ends up marrying a princess who happened to live inside the orange. Everything is highly ridiculous.

Prokofiev's reinterpretation of the story is filled with a frame-story of its own. The opera begins with theater patrons running on stage calling alternately for heart-rending tragedies, gut-wrenching comedies, or misty-eyed romances. They have to be repeatedly brushed off stage by the "real" actors. This production heightens the farce with the king (Gabriel Bacquier) arriving late to his opening aria and being put into costume while singing. He finally shrugs off his robe in frustration and takes a draft from his hip flask. The music works very well too, with much of Prokofiev's special "grotesquery."

I especially loved the Prince (Jean Luc Viala) as an invalid. Like a grumpy three year old he was the epitome of poutiness. You can tell that the whole cast had a unified vision. Good comedy is hard work.

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