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The Love for Three Oranges ( , or Lyubov k Tryom Apelsinam in transliteration) is an opera composed in 1919 by Sergei Prokofiev (his opus 33) to a libretto based on the play L'Amore delle tre melarance by Carlo Gozzi.


Background

The opera was the result of a commission during Prokofiev's successful first visit to the USAmarker in 1918. After successful concerts in Chicagomarker (incuding his First Symphony and Third Piano Concerto). He was approached by the director of the Chicago Opera Association, Cleofonte Campanini, to write an opera. Conveniently, Prokofiev had already drafted a libretto on the journey over based on Gozzi's play in the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, (which was itself based on Giambattista Basile's fairy tale "The Love for Three Oranges"). The evental libretto was adapted by Prokofiev from Vsevolod Meyerhold's translation of Gozzi's play. The adaptation modernized some of the Commedia dell'Arte influences and also introduced a dose of Surrealism. Due to Prokofiev's own scanty knowledge of English, and as Russian would have been uncceptable to American audiences, the initial version was set in French, with the possible assistance of the soprano Vera Janacopoulos, as L'Amour des trois oranges.

The opera was given its premiere performance on December 30, 1921 at the Auditorium Theatremarker, with the composer himself conducting. It received its first Russian production in Petrogradmarker (now St.Petersburg) in 1926 and has since entered the standard repertoire of many opera companies.

Probably the best-known piece in the opera is the "March", which was used by CBS in the series The FBI in Peace and War that was broadcast 1944-1958.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 30 December, 1921
(Conductor: Sergei Prokofiev )
The King of Clubs, ruler of an imaginary kingdom bass James Francis
The Prince, his son tenor José Mojica
Princess Clarissa, the King's niece alto Irène Pavlovska
Leandro, the Prime Minister baritone William Beck
Truffaldino, the court jester tenor Octave Dua
Pantalone, the King's advisor baritone Désiré Defrère
Tchelio, a magician bass Hector Dufranne
Fata Morgana, a witch soprano Nina Koshetz
Princess Ninetta soprano Jeanne Dusseau
Princess Linetta alto Philine Falco
Princess Nicoletta mezzo-soprano Frances Paperte
Smeraldina, Fata Morgana's servant mezzo-soprano Jeanne Schneider
Farfarello, a devil bass James Wolf
The Gigantic Cook, custodian of the three Oranges bass Constantin Nikolay
The Master of Ceremonies tenor Lodovico Oliviero
The Herald bass Jerome Uhl
Ten Cranks; Advocates of Tragedy, Comedy, Lyric Drama and Farce; Little Devils; courtiers, monsters, drunkards, gluttons, guards, servants, soldiers


Synopsis

Prologue

Advocates of Tragedy, Comedy, Lyric Drama and Farce argue for their favourite form before the curtain goes up for a play. The ridiculeuses (cranks) round them up and tell them they are to witness 'The Love for Three Oranges'.

Act 1

The King of Clubs and his adviser Pantalone lament the sickness of the prince, brought on by an indulgence in tragic poetry. Doctors inform the King that his son's hypochondria can only be cured with laughter, so Pantalone summons the jester Truffaldino to arrange a grand entertainment, together with the (secretly inimical) Prime Minister Leandro.

The magician Tchelio, who supports the King, and the witch Fata Morgana, who supports Leandro and Clarice (the king's niece and Leandro's lover), play cards to see who will be successful; Tchelio loses three times in succession to the witch, who brandishes the King of Spades (Leandro).

Leandro and Clarice (the king's niece) plot to kill the Prince so that Clarice can succeed to the throne. The supporters of Tragedy are delighted at this turn of events. The servant Smeraldina reveals that she is also in the service of Fata Morgana, who will support Leandro.

Act 2

All efforts to make the Prince laugh fail, (despite the urgings of the supporters of Comedy) until Fata Morgana is knocked over by Truffaldino and falls over, revealing her underclothes. The prince laughs - as do all the others, except for Leandro and Clarice - and the witch curses him: from henceforth, he will be obessed by a "love for three oranges." The Prince sets off with Truffaldino to seek them.

Act 3

Tchelio tells the prince and Truffaldino where the three oranges are and warns them that they must have water available when the oranges are opened. He also gives Truffaldino a magic ribbon with which to seduce the terrifying cook who guards the oranges in the palace of the witch Creonta. They are blown to the palace with the aid of winds created by the devil Farfarello, who has been summoned by Tchelio. Using the ribbon to distract the grotesque cook (who is sung by a male bass), they steal the oranges and carry them off into the surrounding desert. Whilst the prince is asleep, Truffaldino opens two of the oranges. Fairy princesses emerge and die of thirst. The Cranks give the prince water to save the third princess, Ninetta. The Prince and Ninetta immediately fall in love. A body of soldiers conveniently turns up and the Prince orders them to bury the two deceased princesses. He goes off to look for clothing for Ninetta so he can take her home to marry her, but while he is gone, Fata Morgana turns her into a giant rat and substitutes Smeraldina in disguise.

Act 4

Everyone returns to the king's palace, where the Prince is now reluctantly forced to prepare to marry Smeraldina. Tchelio and Fata Morgana meet, each accusing the other of cheating, but the Cranks intervene and spirit the witch away, leaving the field clear for Tchelio. He restores Ninetta to her natural form. The plotters are sentenced to die but Fata Morgana helps them escape through a trapdoor, and the opera ends with everyone praising the prince and his new princess..

Reception

The initial criticisms of the Chicago production were often harsh, e.g. 'it left many of our best people dazed and wondering', 'Russian jazz with Bolshevik trimmings' and 'The work is intended, one learns, to poke fun. As far as I am able to discern it pokes fun chiefly at those who paid money for it'. Today the opera is however a regular part of the repertory all over the world. An unusual production by the English National Opera in the 1970s used 'scratch'n'sniff' cards handed out to the audience, suggesting various scents matching events in the staging (gunshots, Truffaldino's 'wind', the aroma of oranges).

Recordings

Recent recordings include:

Suite from The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33bis

Prokofiev compiled an orchestral suite from the opera for concert use. The suite lasts for 15-20 minutes, and is in 6 movements:
  1. The Ridiculeuses
  2. The Magician Tchelio and Fata Morgana Play Cards (Infernal Scene)
  3. March
  4. Scherzo
  5. The Prince and the Princess
  6. Flight


Recent recordings include:

March and Scherzo from The Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33ter

The composer made the above transcription for piano solo.

Sources

  • Pisani, Michael V. A Kapustnik in the American Opera House: Modernism and Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, in The Musical Quarterly vo. 81 no. 4 (1997), pp. 487-515


Notes



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