Prokofiev – L’Amour des Trois Oranges

Opéra National de Paris – Bastille, Monday December 4 2006

Conductor: Alexander Lazarev. Production: Gilbert Deflo. Le Roi de Trèfle: Philippe Rouillon. Le Prince: Charles Workman. La Princesse Clarice: Patricia Fernandez. Léandre: Guillaume Antoine. Trouffaldino: Barry Banks. Pantalon: Jean-Luc Ballestra. Tchélio: Alain Vernhes. Fata Morgana: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet. Linette: Letitia Singleton. Nicolette: Natacha Constantin. Ninette: Aleksandra Zamojska. La Cuisinière: Victor von Halem. Farfarello: Antoine Garcin. Sméraldine: Lucia Cirillo. Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Paris.

There’s always a risk, when you take a production the second season running because you liked it so much the first, of disappointment. But if anything, this excellent show – which really ought to be on DVD – struck me as even more outstanding this year than last. All I said about it last year remains true, in spades. And on the singing side, apart from a weaker Princesse Clarisse, the few cast changes were an improvement. With Alain Vernhes replacing José Van Dam as Tchélio, what we lost in elegance we gained in audibility; and Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet, a Brünnhilde if ever there was one, was deluxe casting as Fata Morgana.

The huge change, however, was in the pit, so much so it was almost hard to believe we were hearing the same score. Cambreling’s approach, last year, had been what you might call European Modern: chamber-like, fleet, detailed, almost Stravinskian neo-classical. Lazarev was unmistakeably red-blooded Russian: now savage and sardonic, now tender, now lush and passionate, with a glittering tapestry of sound often reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov and outbursts of unbridled noise, in the brass in particular, worthy of Gergiev in Nos. Totally different, but a great success.

There was a great deal of coughing and fidgeting among the Christmas crowd, but it was interesting to see people bringing so many children to hear this uncompromising score.

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