ROBERT HUGILL praises
Grange Park Opera's production
of Prokofiev's 'The Gambler'
Prokofiev's opera The Gambler [seen 3 June 2007] is a challenging work to be performed in Grange Park Opera's celebratory 10th season. But Wasfi Kani, Grange Park Opera's artistic director, has always included a number of rare and interesting operas amongst the well known crowd pleasers. In 2004 they performed Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress in a strong production directed and designed by David Fielding. This year Fielding was back directing and designing The Gambler.
The opera, which is based on a Dostoevsky novella, takes place in and around a German casino at a spa town loosely based on Baden-Baden. The cast are all variously in the grip of gambling at the casino and the opera ends badly for all concerned.
Fielding's stunning set was based on a simple box with doors, the whole overlaid with enlarged photographic detail of gilt plasterwork, a simple but wonderfully effective way of evoking the Edwardian over-decorated Grand Hotel atmosphere. Into this basic set, Fielding variously placed furniture, urns, statues and ultimately the gaming tables themselves.
Though the opera has a relatively small basic cast, the stage was populated by the comings and goings of the hotel and casino guests. Many of these re-appeared in the penultimate scene in the casino itself, when they all comment on Alexei's progress at the tables. Fielding had costumed everyone in realistic and attractive Edwardian outfits, with a particular emphasis on the designer Paul Poiret for the glamorous women.
The plot is basically quite simple. The General (Andrew Shore) has gambled away both his fortune and that of his ward Paulina (Katherine Rohrer). He is eagerly awaiting the demise of his rich and aged aunt, known as Babulenka (Carol Rowlands). The General has engaged Alexei (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts) as the tutor for his children. Alexei is in love with Paulina to the point of obsession, though Paulina rather looks down on Alexei. Both Alexei and the General are grossly in debt to the Marquis Grieux (Hubert Francis). Also creeping round the hotel and gaming tables is the Englishman, Mr Astley (Roderick Earle). The General is in love with Blanche (Doreen Cullan), a glamorous gold digger.
Katherine Rohrer as Pauline and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Alexei. Photo © 2007 Alistair Muir
For the first two acts this cast of characters furiously plot, with the General sending a constant stream of telegrams to enquire as to the health (or lack of it) of his aunt. Paulina rejects Alexei's advances -- she suspects that he is keener on money than her. But she eggs him on to do something outrageously daring if he really loves her; he does so and this causes further furious plotting and repercussions.
Copyright © 11 June 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK