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At the end of Act 2 Prokofiev spectacularly punctures this frantic atmosphere with the arrival of Babulenka herself to gamble. Carol Rowlands's entrance as Babulenka, sitting in a bath chair and surrounded by retainers was brilliant. Whilst on stage Rowlands dominated the action, as she should. Rolwands relished the fact that Babulenka is essentially unlikeable and knows it, using her fortune as a weapon.

During Act 3 Babulenka proceeds to lose her entire fortune, to the increasing desperation of all concerned. Finally she leaves penniless, a broken women. Paulina refuses to accompany her, still conflicted about the men in her life.

The General has what amounts to a spectacular mad scene as he has lost not only his money but any chance of an inheritance and, as a consequence, the women he loves as well. It can't be often that basses get to conclude their performance by going mad and Andrew Shore made the most of it, making the scene a complete tour-de-force.

Finally, being pressured by the Marquis, Paulina is forced to turn to Alexei for help. He resorts to the gambling tables. Here Prokofiev shows us the tables for the first time and as Alexei has a remarkable winning streak, the individual chorus members comment on Alexei's remarkable luck. In this scene Prokofiev displays some brilliant orchestral writing as he depicts the roulette wheel and the device of having a cast of eccentrics commenting on the action kept the textures varied. Fielding and his cast were uniformly excellent, providing the dramatic highlight of the evening. Veteran tenor Stuart Kale made a fine croupier.

Finally, Alexei has won his fortune and returns to Paulina. Here Fielding pulls of another coup; the rather Art Deco circular ceiling tilts alarmingly and becomes a roulette wheel. Alexei cannot shake off the grip of the gambling table and Paulina cannot quite bring herself to accept money from him and flees, leaving Alexei in the grip of his mania. This final scene provides the culmination of the strong performances from Lloyd-Roberts and Roher.

Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Alexei in the casino. Photo © 2007 Alistair Muir
Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Alexei in the casino. Photo © 2007 Alistair Muir

Doing an opera as challenging as this at Grange Park was always going to be a risk. At the interval I could hear a number of questioning voices around me. It might have been some help if the words had been more audible or if there had been surtitles. But by the end, everyone was won over by the superb performance. This was one of the best things that Grange Park Opera has ever done, a fitting celebration of their first ten years.

Copyright © 11 June 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK





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