Prokofiev: The Gambler
Sergey Prokofiev’s first mature opera, an ultimately brilliant take on Dostoyevsky’s novella about impecunious Russians adrift in the German spa town of ‘Roulettenburg’, makes its audience work far too hard at first. Nearly two Acts pass before we begin to make sense of the chattery, nervy style; and in this production Mariinsky director Temur Chkeidze offers no help at all. While the old Soviet film and Dmitri Tcherniakov’s state-of-the-art Berlin production, both on DVD, evoke the claustrophobic setting in different ways, Zinovy Margolin’s bare sets convey nothing, and the limited acting is enervating.
Tenor Vladimir Galuzin is surely miscast as volatile hero Alexei: he is not a young man of unhealthy obsessions and capricious moods, but an ageing rogue of stentorian delivery but limited agility (anyone remember character tenor Graham Clark’s acrobatics at the English National Opera years ago?). More appropriate characterisations come from Tatiana Pavlovskaya as the enigmatic object of his desire, Polina, an ice maiden with hidden neuroses; Sergei Aleksashkin as the foolish old general; and Larissa Dyadkova ageing well as roulette-bent Babulenka. But a better director would do so much more with all three.
Valery Gergiev conducts with exemplary clarity but not the requisite volatility, and what should be the climactic roulette scene in the last Act, played around an invisible wheel, is disappointingly dull. Apart from singers occasionally going ‘off mic’, presentation is reasonable – but there’s little to watch. In the absence of documentary extras, a mere plot synopsis in the booklet won’t do. Head straight for Tcherniakov on C Major DVD for the proper music-theatre experience.