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Deal Me In

March 27, 2008

Vladimir Galouzine as Alexei
Photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera 2008

It’s just great. Of all the production’s I’ve seen at the Metropolitan Opera this week, the revival of Prokofiev’s The Gambler that opened on Thursday night was easily the most all around satisfying, musically and theatrically. Forget all the endless Tristan PR, this is the real deal. Prokofiev's 20th century masterpiece is back for the first time since 2001 under the guidance of Valery Gergiev and many of his Marinsky stars in a production directed by Temur Chkheidze with set designs from George Tsypin. This Russian dream team and the excellent cast including Vladimir Galouzine as Alexei and Olga Guryakova as Polina have done a masterful job in capturing the complex mix of dark tragedy and irreverent humor integral to Prokofiev’s score as well as Dostoyevsky's original work.

Granted this opera is not everyone's cup of tea. The narrative is disjointed and more concerned with underlying psychodynamic issues than the clarity of plot points - but in this lies its beauty. Everyone involved in The Gambler is not very nice and no one has any way out of their predicament. And while no one dies in the end, it's probably about the most tragic opera one could imagine. The production has a Wizard of Oz feel and while it can't escape the giant slanted round gambling table that always seem to make it into gambling themed operas like Pique Dame, it is both sly and dreadful. A green crush velvet curtain, a flying horse statue in flames, and a giant rotating steel framework all create a sense of the fantastic and surreal. If there is any criticism of the staging, it may be that it doesn't go far enough in its willingness to dispense with the literal aspects of the libretto. Still, it can be more than cheeky when it needs to be, right down to a wink and a nod from the chorus.

Musically, it would be hard to imagine a more passionate, inspired performance of this often discordant score. Gergiev has a real love for this work and it shows. Galouzine is marvelous. He commands the stage with his rich tone and thoughtful, detailed performance. Olga Guryakova is completely believable which is a task, given that the conclusion rests on the audience's recognition of Polina's underlying psychological state. The rogues gallery of a supporting cast were strong with an exceptionally deft turn from Larissa Diadkova as the grandmother who gambles away her fortune more or less to spite her family.

So here lies a gem not to be missed. Sandwiched between the huge press campaigns for two other 20th century works, Peter Grimes and Satyagraha, The Gambler may run the risk of being overlooked, which would be be a shame because it really is wonderful. Which makes me think. A woman in front of me noted is disdain that the only reason the Met programmed this opera was at Gergiev's insistence. And while that may have originally been true, given its proximity on the schedule to works by Britten and Glass, it may no longer be the case.



A woman in front of me noted is disdain that the only reason the Met programmed this opera was at Gergiev's insistence

Yeah, god forbid the idea that it's a terrific opera should enter in to it at all. [insert eye-rolling emoticons here]

It's a bizarre comment, I'd say, I don't think Gergiev has quite that amount of clout any more, and I really really doubt they'd use four slots on a revival that they didn't think would have some appeal.

In any case, lucky you, glad you enjoyed it, I haven't heard it in ages so I should pull out one of the recordings I have and give it a spin.
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