Monday, 1 February 2010
Three juicy oranges
All Prokofiev's, of course, and it's been a real pleasure to concentrate on the main man again. Now that War and Peace and all the background work on The Gambler are done and dusted for the time being, I can settle back into my eight or so complete Romeo and Juliets for Radio 3's Building a Library (the programme is scheduled for 13 February).
As I think I mentioned earlier, we're having more of a non-stop Prokofiev feast in the first few months of the year than ever happened for the 50th anniversary. First came The Snow Queen, that oddly conventional and unvaried Corder take on chunks of The Stone Flower mixed in - rather well - with bits of War and Peace, Betrothal in a Monastery and the Fifth Symphony. I rather anticipated that Kenneth MacMillan's unsinkable Royal Ballet Romeo and Juliet would yet again knock it into a cocked hat, and it did, by virtue of the careful attention to detail and the adventurous casting that continue to inform the revivals. Nothing, it seemed, was going to cap the DVD with Acosta - out of action currently, alas - and Tamara Rojo
where the fight scene with Thiago Soares's hunky Tybalt is so dangerous you fear they'll fall off the stage. Indeed, the Romeo I saw this time round, Edward Watson, was poetic and dreamy, as photographed below by Dee Conway, but not quite on the edge enough.
Much as I've loved Leanne Benjamin's Cinderella and other roles, she couldn't quite match Rojo, Ferri and Fonteyn for sheer charisma. It's still striking, though, how bold MacMillan is with the flinging around of bodies in the final scene. This hits home painfully if you watch the boyish-desperate Angel Corella with the still-youthful Ferri in the Scala DVD. Compared to that, the stateliness of Lavrovsky's choreography in a terrible Soviet film only worth watching for Ulanova seems tame indeed.
Anyway, the Royal Ballet is still at the top of its game. I was delighted to see its inspiring director, Dame Monica Mason - who's always there before every performance and, I'm told, at rehearsals too - sitting in the audience when I gave my Gambler talk at the Insight Evening last Thursday. So, too, were Elaine Padmore, Tony Hall and many other big cheeses in the Royal Opera admin. The very friendly Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts was there, too, ready to sing excerpts later with Elisabeth Meister and superb piano accompaniment from assistant conductor Christopher Willis. Jeffrey was an outstanding Alexey in the top-notch Grange Park production of The Gambler. Here he is in two photos by Alastair Muir of that production so brilliantly designed and directed by David Fielding. In the first pic he's desperate to please Katherine Rohrer's capricious Polina.
Next he's seen breaking the bank at the Roulettenburg casino, a scene which can't fail to thrill if it's done with all the wacky detail Prokofiev wants:
Jeffrey is to play the hypochondriacal prince in The Love for Three Oranges at Grange Park this summer. At Covent Garden, he's merely covering the role of Alexey, and Roberto Sacca is going to have to be exceptional to match him - especially as the decision's been taken to perform the opera in English.
That I can understand, even if I'm selfishly a bit disappointed. Prokofiev's dramaturgy moves at such a lick that if the audience has its eyes glued to the supertitles, it's going to miss a lot of the stage action - and given that Richard Jones, the ideal man for the job, is directing, there's bound to be plenty of that. Tony Pappano, on the panel chaired by Kevin Rainey following my talk, said that he wasn't too concerned about losing the Russian. The language, he said, is horizontal - demonstrating with Lensky's 'kuda, kuda vi udalilis' from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin - while so much of Prokofiev's motoric score is vertical, and the two don't always match. Jones, to whom I'm indebted for asking that I took part, voiced his worries about setting it all up in the tricky, talky first two acts; but we agree with Prokofiev that it all goes in a line towards the thrilling roulette scene, one of his greatest, and the thorny denouement. He ended simply by saying that 'The Gambler has a very original soul and it wants to be put into the world'. I know what he means. Book now before all the top £50 seats go.
Pappano is, of course, a fascinating speaker, passionately engaged and clear even when trying to explain difficult things to an audience. That's why I breathe a sigh of relief that the BBC have signed him up to present three programmes on Italian opera in a large-scale counterblast to the car-crash telly of ITV's Popstar to Operastar.
Well, I wanted to end with a linking photo, of two fruits - Jones and myself - alongside the steaky Pappano, but alas the results have not been passed for publication. So another Zelig moment will have to remain in the private archive.