Magazine article The Spectator

Losing Streak

Magazine article The Spectator

Losing Streak

Article excerpt

The Gambler Royal Opera House, in rep until 27 February

The Elixir of Love English National Opera, in rep until 23 March

Prokofiev's opera The Gambler adapts Dostoevsky's novella of the same name, an audacious enterprise.

Unfortunately, it fails, as I think all the composer's operas do, apart perhaps from The Love for Three Oranges, and mainly because he gives no evidence of interest in individual human beings, and hence of the musical means which he might develop to express their individuality. War and Peace is Prokofiev's most spectacular failure in that respect, but the war scenes do something to salvage it. There are no compensations in The Gambler, so what is quite a short opera, a bit more than two hours, comes across as a long, stagnant one. And the stagnancy is the more pronounced for the ceaseless bustle that we are witnessing. Not surprisingly, since the setting is mainly a casino, people rush in, worrying about their losses before they go on to lose a lot more; indulge in hysterics on various subjects - for the opera is concerned with the twin addictions of gambling and lust-cum-love; and pass out, insult, exit rapidly, make all kinds of scenes.

Meanwhile, the music carries on mainly by means of motor rhythms and ostinati, but without a sense of forward movement.

Prokofiev's idea was to write a kind of opera in close relationship to everyday speech, as Mussorgsky had done, often triumphantly, and as Janacek was in the process of doing, almost always with consummate success. Prokofiev fails miserably, partly because, unlike those other two composers, he creates no memorable music. Every now and then there is a characteristic tiny flood of lyricism, but only for a bar or two, and as a tease, before we are hurried back to the chattering. The characters are not interesting, almost all of them mere grotesques, and what they have to say - a very great deal, since garrulity seems to go with their addictions - is uninteresting, too.

It's almost more disheartening to see a bad opera done well than done badly, for one has the added sadness of thinking what the resources available could have been used for, and how they are being wasted. The team of performers that has been assembled at the Royal Opera is an impressive one, and the central role of Alexei is so well sung and acted by Roberto Sacca that he almost engages the interest. …

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