WORKS: Betrothal in a Monastery
PERFORMER: Nikolai Gassiev, Alexander Gergalov, Anna Netrebko, Larissa Diadkova; Kirov Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 462 107-2
Young love was the theme that attracted Prokofiev to Sheridan’s stock-plot ‘musical’ The Duenna, which makes the opera ideal for music students and small opera houses and something of an obstacle course for big companies. True, the neat little craft which Sheridan provided for his accomplished singer-actors becomes a treasure-laden galleon in Prokofiev’s hands – but what treasure. After a first hearing, the melody of Don Jerome’s minuet runs riot in the memory; after a second or a third, the love music and the dances will stay with you.
It all needs a deft guiding hand, and a crisp team of singers. Lazarev has something of the right spirit, but rushes the crucially wistful theme at the heart of the nunnery scene. His men boast full-blooded tone with a sprinkling of characterisation, but his women nearly sink the enterprise; Prokofiev’s awkward habit of side-stepping into neighbouring keys isn’t easy to negotiate, but Sergienko goes flat beyond the bounds of decency.
Gergiev boasts a nimble ensemble, with one voice of true distinction and colour in Marianna Tarassova’s Clara. The live recording certainly helps with the sense of pace – though the splashing water in the minuet scene should have been silenced – and Gergiev creates an extra frisson as Prokofiev unleashes the full orchestra in later scenes. Of the opera’s three recordings to date, this is the only one to bring the comedy and the romance to life.