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A CurtainUp Review

Betrothal in a Monastery
By David Lipfert

Currently in residence at the Metropolitan Opera, the Kirov company positively enthralled the audience for the second of three performances of Sergei Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery. This marks the first time at the Met both for the opera, here ably conducted by Valery Gergiev, and this much talked about production by Vladislav Pazi. Mr. Pazi has freely interpreted eighteenth-century theatrical styles to create a fast-paced, visually delightful presentation full of color and movement that expanded Prokoviev's chamber concept to fill the Met stage. Dancers introduce the opera and appear while set elements are changed between scenes in addition to appearing in the Dance of the Masqueraders at the end of Act II.

The libretto by the composer is a brilliant streamlining for operatic purposes of Sheridan's The Duenna, in which ruses and disguises enable true love to triumph. Don Jerome has intended to marry his daughter Luisa to successful Sevillian purveyor of fish and seafood Mendoza. When she leans of her father's plans, she schemes to escape from the house with the aid of her large-nosed, pipe-smoking Duenna, who plans to trick well-to-do Mendoza into marrying her instead. Meanwhile, Luisa's brother Ferdinand wishes to marry his true love Clara, in spite of some unappreciated aggressive behavior on his part. The Duenna convinces Mendoza that she is the girl he has been promised by Don Jerome. Mendoza abducts "Luisa" by darkness, and they as well as the other two couples land in a monastery, where greedy, drunken monks willingly perform the joint marriage ceremony. Presented with a triple fait accompli, Don Jerome accepts Clara and the impecunious Antonio into the family and wishes the best to Mendoza, who in the meantime has warmed up considerably to the Duenna's unique charms.

Listening to this and other operas by Prokofiev, it seems clear that he saved his best melodies for full-length ballets. Betrothal's speech-like musical lines for the soloists do not allow the singers to shine vocally. The emphasis is on the intelligibility of the text, so lower, speaking-range tessiture prevail. Lyric-coloratura Anna Netrebko, who enchanted in Ruslan and Lyudmila (see link at end), here has to open her voice down to achieve a greater presence. Like that of the remainder of the cast, her characterization is flawless. Her Antonio, Yevgeny Akimov, showed good vocal taste.

As the almost title character, Nadezhda Vasilieva as the Duenna had that superb timing that is so essential for comedy. Gravelly-voiced Yuri Laptev as Don Carlos marred the notable quartet at the end of Act II. Marianna Tarassova lent her dark-hued mezzo to the role of Luisa's friend, Clara.

Remaining roles including six servants and as many monks were filled by less-than-beautiful comprimario-type voices, who sometimes had to force when Mr. Gergiev's orchestra exceeded Prokofiev's chamber-like intent.

In Alexei Miroshnichenko's pleasant choreography, none of the dancers stood out either technically or expressively. Alla Kozhenkova used a giant fan, which raised to create a fantasy background or lowered to make a raked playing area. While her women's costumes, some reminiscent of Carnival season in Venice, exhibit a wide range of color and materials, those for the men are less interesting.

The performance lasts just over three and a half hours with two intermissions.

Links to other operas reviewed in this series:
Ruslan and Lyudmila
Prince Igor

BETROTHAL IN A MONASTERY Opera in three acts (1946)
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto by the composer after The Duenna by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Text by Mira Mendelson-Prokofiev
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Production: Vladislav Pazi
Sets and Costumes: Alla Kozhenkova
Lighting: Anatoli Kuznetsov
Choroegrapher: Alexei Miroshnichenko
Chorus Master: Valery Borisov
Fight Director: Kirill Chernozemov
Asst. Stage Dir.: Yuri Laptev
Stage Band Conductor: Georgi Strautman
Met Titles: Cori Ellison
Don Jerome-Constantine Pluzhnikov
Ferdinand-Vassily Gerello
Luisa-Anna Netrebko
The Duenna (Margaret)-Nadezhda Vasilieva
Antonio-Yevgeny Akimov
Clara-Marianna Tarassova
Mendoza-Gennady Bezzubenkov
Don Carlos-Yuri Laptev
Father Augustine-Vladimir Vaneev
Lopez-Vladimir Zhivopistsev
Bolero: Lira Khuslamova, Nikolai Godunov
Oriental Dance: Anastasia Emets, Anton Boitsov
Jester: Evgenia Sirotenko
Jesters: Gennady Nikolaev, Andrei Berezovsky, Sergei Dmitriev, Anatol Kurchin
Musicians: Vadim Bondarenko, Vitali Zaitsev, Mikhail Peskov
Presented at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center.
In repertory through May 9th and reviewed 5/2/98

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