The Love for Three Oranges
The Love for Three Oranges at the Teatro Communale in Florence
© Pietro Paolini/TerraProject/Contrasto 2014
Prokofiev was a virtuoso teller of fairy tales. In his opera The Love for Three Oranges, elements of tragedy, comedy, fantasy and romance are teasingly combined. Although the opera is based on a play by the Venetian Carlo Gozzi, it has never gained real popularity in Italy (it was last performed here in Florence — in Italian translation — in 1979), but the masterful new production by South African director Alessandro Talevi, which turned out to be the real highlight of this year's Maggio Musicale, delighted the audience at the Teatro Comunale on June 7.
The staging, designed by Justin Arienti with costumes by Manuel Pedretti, was built around a highly elaborate proscenium arch (reminding the audience of the metatheatrical context of the tale) while playfully evoking the era that immediately preceded the composition of the score for the Chicago Opera Association. (The premiere took place there in 1921.) A decadent, strife-ridden Europe in the last throes of World War I (the Roi de Trèfles here resembles the Austro–Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef) is contrasted with the forward-looking dynamism of the New World. Creonte's castle is located somewhere in the Midwest, and the three oranges are opened in what looks like the New Mexican desert, where the Prince and Trouffaldino land in a primitive aircraft. The director has something specific to say about that era in history, yet his points are never pressed insistently: they are put across with a lightness of touch that perfectly reflects the whimsy of the score. The talented Slovak conductor Juraj Valčuha — who is very active in Italy — proved equally true to the spirit of the score, relishing the humor, charm and imagination of Prokofiev's orchestration and obtaining a world-class performance from the Maggio Musicale Orchestra and Chorus.
There were only a few native French-speakers in the large cast, but the text by Véra Janacopulos and Prokofiev himself was fully savored by all. As the Prince, American tenor Jonathan Boyd succeeded both in making us laugh at the character's outrageous hypochondria in Act I and in sweeping us away with the naïve romanticism of the Act III duet with Diletta Rizzo Marin's graceful Ninette. There was much telling interaction between Jean Teitgen's wheelchair-bound Roi de Trèfles and Leonardo Galeazzi's Pantalon. Loïx Félix proved strikingly agile and vocally incisive as Trouffaldino, here a much more loyal character than his commedia dell'arte prototype and a truly memorable theatrical creation. Kristinn Sigmundsson's performance in drag as the grotesque, hen-like cook La Cuisinière provoked shrieks of delight from the children in the audience, and Larissa Schmidt was no less funny as Sméraldine, an Afro–American servant portrayed as a parody of racial stereotyping.
There were lively performances from Davide Damiani (Léandre), Roberto Abbondanza (Tchélio), Anna Shafajinskaia (Fata Morgana) and Julia Gertseva (La Princesse Clarice). The pupils of the local "Luigi Cherubini" Conservatory offered brilliant support as Les Ridicules, the chorus of Tragedians, Comedians, Romantics and Empty Heads that comments on the action and saves the life of the heroine, Ninette.
This was the last-ever operatic performance at Florence's Teatro Comunale (the company will move definitively to a new opera house in the autumn), and it proved truly worthy of Italy's oldest music festival, which has always been based in this building.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.