My European ‘season’ 2013 has begun. After a week of settling in to my new flat, and catching up with some of the friends whom I haven’t seen since I disappeared off to winter in the South, it was time to get out, and taste the musical and theatrical treats on offer, before that season disappears.
And so, last night, we headed once more to the Deutsche Oper. It was an interesting night in store. The opera was Prokofiev’s L’amour des trois oranges, of which I knew nothing, save the march tune which was featured on one of my childish records, half a century ago. I hurriedly conned the plot, and then saw to my delight that he wrote the piece in French. Tonight it was I who would understand the text.
I had hard work. The story is a bit whimsical if not exactly complex, only a couple of the players had intelligible French, and I was reduced to reading the German surtitles!
The piece is quite simply a grand opéra-bouffe féerie. Yes, I know it has the odd 20th-century trappings, but that’s what it is. It is a full sister to Le Cheval de bronze, which Berlin gave us so successfully last year. Which suits me fine. But it is different in one notable way from Auber’s piece. There is no ‘Veuvage’ song hit in Prokofiev’s score: because there are no songs. The pretty, lively, opéra-bouffe music never stops and allows anyone a good old-fashioned show-off sing. So the march has no challengers as the hit of the night. Enjoyable as the music is, the march is the show’s only takeaway tune.
Like the Bronze Horse, the Deutsche Oper production is not particularly physically ‘spectacular’, relying heavily on curtains for its decor, but it is lively and good-humoured and its little pasted-on bits of topical humour drew much laughter. It was directed in a clear and suitable style, played melodiously, and simply allowed the opera to speak and sing for itself. Which, for me, is ideal opera direction. Thank you.
The cast was made up largely of the pensionnaires of the house, and (although I was devastated to find my favourite Markus Brück was ‘off’), as always, the team threw up a couple of first-rate performances.
The tenor Prince (Thomas Blondelle), whose inability to laugh is the spring to the basic story, doesn’t make his appearance until we’ve been drowned in (rather wooffy) bass and baritone music for half an hour and, when he did, the stage lit up. Singing freely and clearly, and acting with attractive ease, he put himself plumb at the centre of the evening’s action (as he should) and stayed there throughout. A fine, clever, effortless performance.
But he was not alone. If the ‘hero’ takes his time to show up, what to say of his Princess, who doesn’t arrive from her piece of fruit till the second half? This – the opening of the three oranges -- was the most enjoyable and imaginative part of the show, without a doubt. The image of the evening for me is Princess Ninetta (Hila Fahima), rising from her Deutsche Oper Obst, a tiny, tiny princess in a vast Valkyrian helmet ... and then she sang. Oh, did she sing. After too many covered, muffled vocal sounds from elsewhere in the cast, at last here came a raindrop-clear, sweet, thrillingly pure sound, which just floated across the auditorium. My night was made. I wanted to stop the show and have her interpolate Rode’s Air and Variations. I’ll go and see her when she plays Pamina. Which must be soon.
The two stars were well supported: the always reliable Burkhard Ulrich had fun with a joyously unextravagant portrayal of the clown Truffaldino, Marko Mimica as the wizard Tschelio got the nearest thing to a big sing and he stood at the footlights and richly gave it his all, and some of the best fun (and fine singing) was supplied by Tobias Kehrer in the travesty role of the Cook. The ten ‘ridicules’ made a lively male voice sub-choir, and the various not-hugely-grateful ladies’ roles were adequately filled.
So, definitely a successful experience. I’m very glad to have seen Prokofiev’s answer to La Biche au bois, and I would gladly see it again. I’m very glad to have seen Mons Blondelle for the first time, and I’m absurdly glad to have seen and heard Mlle Fahima whom I definitely will see again.
A good start to my 2013. Next, onto Radialsystem…