Photo: Clive Barda
Royal Opera House
Where: West End
12 February 2010 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Get Fyodor Dostoevsky, not renowned for his insouciance, to write a piece of Gogolesque whimsy and have Sergei Prokofiev, without a staggeringly successful record of operatic output, to compose a score that is second rate by his standards and you have The Gambler, now receiving its Royal Opera premiere.
Richard Jones would seem to be the perfect director for the work and he does his best with it. He worked wonders with Shostakovich’s
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden but there the material was much more giving. Here, take his characteristic brightness, cartoon characters, ingenious foreshortened sets and throw in a performing seal (literally) and things still don’t spark off.
We know that Prokofiev was capable of descriptive music but here so much of the time what’s coming from the pit bears little relation to the action, such as it is. The first half plods horribly. Things pick up a bit in the second, culminating in the busyness of the roulette scene of Act 4, where the chorus comes into its own and the director can let rip. It’s almost enough to rescue the evening but not quite.
The problem seems to lie somewhere between the source material and what the composer did with it. Dostoevsky served as the basis for one great early twentieth century opera, in
The House of the Dead, but composers have generally and advisedly steered clear. While the Janacek is predictably grim, with The Gambler the author seemed to be wandering into foreign territory, much more comfortably inhabited by Nikolai Gogol, and he simply doesn’t pull it off.
For all the welcome experimentation Prokofiev was doing with his score, things don’t sit easily and the mix of dragging text (made no easier by being sung here in English) and tuneless dirge, with just occasional hints of the magnificence the composer was capable of, does not make for an engaging evening.
Jones just doesn’t have the chance to show us his usual brilliance. Everything’s carried off with flare by a potentially brilliant cast but it all flies off in wrong directions like roulette balls failing to find their slot in the wheel.
I’d always choose an unknown opera, whatever the quality of writing, over yet another revival of one of the 100 or so works of the standard repertoire, but this one seems an awful waste of the talents of Roberto Saccà, Angela Denoke, John Tomlinson, Kurt Streit, Mark Stone, Susan Bickley, Antonio Pappano and Richard Jones, to name a few. It couldn’t have been given a better opportunity to shine but I can’t see it sticking around beyond this run.
- by Simon Thomas Related Content
Score Comment Date The review as written, is hopelessly conservative. While The Gambler may be the most inaccessible piece of music not written in a 12-tone form, it's an egregious error to accuse Prokofiev, on the one-hand, of conservative neo-Romanticism, and, on the other, to eschew his works from the modernist period. When will we ever get a critical culture that can get past some of the Cold war-era xenophobia on this greatest of 20th century composers? - Nicholas Lawson 15 Feb 10
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
: The economic impact of Arts & Culture in the UK Infographic When Culture Secretary Maria Miller called for the arts to make their "economic case" for subsidy, t... Plays Cast: Harry Potter star in Southwark Moment, more for Branagh's Macbeth Bonnie Wright, best known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films, will make her stage d... Brief Encounter with ... The Kite Runner's Ben Turner Ben Turner stars in the stage version of the bestselling book The Kite Runner, which runs at Liverpo... Titus Andronicus (RSC) This latest production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, to borrow from football punditry, is a p... : Britain's outdoor theatres Take Five With half-term approaching, the weather (hopefully) set to improve for the bank holiday weekend and ... West End Live returns to Trafalgar Square next month West End Live, a weekend of free entertainment from top London shows, will return to Trafalgar Squar... : 'I carry the ghost of Gregory Peck on my shoulders' Robert Sean Leonard Actor Robert Sean Leonard is currently playing Atticus Finch in Timothy Sheader's production of To K... To Kill A Mockingbird Twenty years ago, a young Robert Sean Leonard appeared on the London stage with Alan Alda in... X Factor musical titled I Can't Sing!, opens Palladium March 2014 The forthcoming X Factor musical will be called I Can't Sing! The Musical and will premiere at the L... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p...