I’m sure if you stay in New York long enough everything in the world will come to you. Last week the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre St. Petersburg was here playing a series of concerts devoted to the works of Prokofiev, and on Sunday I saw their concert performance of The Love for Three Oranges, a favorite of mine, which I saw a number of times in Opera Australia’s recent production of the English translation by Tom Stoppard.
I was excited to find that my seat purchased over the internet months ago in row D was in the front row. And more so when I discovered that the row of chairs set up in front of the orchestra would not be used by the singers sitting in a row. Although a concert performance with no scenery or props – apart from a clip on bow tie which became the beautiful ribbon which entrances the ferocious cook who keeps the three oranges in her kitchen – the singers performed without music and acted their parts using the whole width of the stage. Having an uninterrupted and close view I could see that all of them were completely absorbed in their performances, and they all sang marvelously as well. The orchestra was conducted by its director the amazingly disheveled Valery Gergiev who occasionally stepped back from his music stand to direct groups of the singers from their midst.
I don’t think I have ever seen a program or artist’s biography which reveals the age of a singer, but it was clear from appearances and the years in which all the members of this cast had graduated or won prizes that they were all young and would be surprised if any of them was older than say 35.
Alexei Tanovitski caused a little confusion at the outset as he sang both the King of Clubs and the Herald, but the Herald was soon gone and it was clear who he was. Though he is young his bass was reminiscent of the deep Russian bass singers familiar from Orthodox liturgical music. Bass baritones are usually solidly built, so Pavel Shimanovich who sang Celio came as a surprise. His voice did not have the liturgical growl of the King of Spades, but he was a fine bass baritone though short and slight.
There are too many characters in Love for Three Oranges for me to list them all: they all sang well. Though the Tom Stoppard translation used by OA was very witty in itself and a highlight of that production, there is nothing like hearing it sung in Russian by Russians. The unique sounds of the language belong with the music and the whole effect, together with the excellent orchestra and chorus was overwhelming.
Love for Three Oranges is both a fairy tale and an ironic commentary on theatrical traditions. It shows that you can have great Opera about nothing of importance, at least which can be described in words. As a composition, it is perfect. There is not a note too many, and the music is a perfect compliment to the story and the text, especially with the sound of Russian voices.
Prokofiev, Love for Three Oranges, Kirov Orchestra and Chorus of the Mariinsky Theatre, Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, Sunday 16 November 2008, 3pm.