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Prokofiev's neurotic musical style combined with the fact that most of the characters are overwrought even before the opera begins, means that these first two acts can seem a little over-done and unrelenting. This was particularly true in a theatre the size of the small one at Grange Park. The Orchestra of St John's played magnificently under André de Ridder, doing full justice to the score. But there were a number of occasions when I wished that de Ridder had kept the orchestra down a little. The main casualty was the audibility of the words; David Pountney's excellent English translation was used.
The overwrought nature of the proceedings made understandable Fielding's decision to play the opera relatively naturalistically. He gave a stable background against which the cast played out their various obsessions.
Andrew Shore was superb as the General, a desperate little man in the grip of gambling mania. Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts was truly towering as Alexei. There have been occasions in the past when I felt that Lloyd-Roberts' developing dramatic tenor voice was not comfortable in its own skin, but as Alexei the tenor seemed entirely at home. I have never heard him sing better. He was attired as a rather boring, bank-clerk like figure. But Lloyd-Roberts made Alexei's twin obsessions of money and Pauline wonderfully vivid, both musically and dramatically. Alexei is a big, tiring role and it is to Lloyd-Roberts' credit that he sang it to the manner born.
As Alexei's rather unlikeable love interest Paulina, Katherine Rohrer was completely apposite. She managed to catch Paulina's sexual attractiveness along with her fundamental disdain for Alexei. Rohrer did not try to make us like Paulina, but she made us understandable the character's conflicted nature.
Hubert Francis was excellent in the role of the Marquis, the eminence grise of the plot; constantly in the background, willing to lend money at interest. Francis made the Marquis oilily attractive without overdoing it. After all, we have to believe that Paulina would be willing to marry him.
Roderick Earle was strong casting for Mr Astley, a role that seems to be rather under developed. Earle's principal task seemed to be to lurk. Doreen Curran made her mark as Blanche, the chic-ly attractive schemer.
Copyright © 11 June 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK