"Betrothal in a Monastery Op. 86 is an opera that is based on the comedy The Duenna by British dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The libretto was written by Prokofiev's second wife, Mira Mendelssohn and is Prokofiev's attempt to adapt Italian opera buffa to the Russian stage. While there can be comparisons between this opera and The Love for Three Oranges, the operas are quite different. Betrothal in a Monastery is more lyrical as part of the musical style Prokofiev developed after his return to Russia. Much of the music in the opera is light and playful. The orchestration is masterful and inventive with Prokofiev's characteristic writing for the lower brass.
This production was filmed at the Kirov opera in 1998 and is conducted by Valery Gergiev, which is an excellent Prokofiev interpreter. Visually, it is a beautiful production. The stage is dominated by a giant fan, which rises to create a fantasy background or lowered to make a playing area for the singers and dancers. Some of the costumes (especially those of the dancers) are reminiscent of Carnival season in Venice, and are colorful and original. It is a fast moving theater, full of movement and color, imitating the Italian eighteenth-century theatrical style. The Kirov Ballet dancers add much to the excitement.
All the singers are first rate. It is apparent that in the Kirov Gergiev assembled infinite reserves of outstanding singers. Luisa is sung by soprano Anna Netrebko. Today she is one of the hottest names in opera. She has a beautiful lyric voice and her characterization is flawless. Her Antonio, tenor Yevgeny Akimov, is excellent too. Mezzo Larissa Diadkova, now very famous in the west, is the Duenna and she is superb. Another mezzo, Marianna Tarassova sings the role of Luisa's friend, Clara and her softer voice suit the role admirably. Nikolai Gassiev is Don Jerome. His vocal and physical acting is outstanding and the veteran bass Sergei Alexashkin sings Mandoza with an enormous nose that was attached to his face.
Technical quality is first rate. It is an outstanding issue. No lover of Prokofiev's music should miss it. "
A very enjoyable performance of a lesser known opera
A. BOSS | Mountainside, NJ United States | 09/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although there are no show stopping arias that the viewer will remember, the music is very pleasant and full of melody, and the performance is excellent. If you are looking to broaden your collection to include more than the standard operas such as Boheme, Aida, etc, this light comedy is a very good choice. Not only do the singers sing and act their parts well, but they also look their parts (which is frequently not the case in opera)."
A Great Escape by a Great Russian Composer
Victor Wolfram | Walnut Creek, CA USA | 02/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Prokofiev had just escaped from the horrors of World War II (the Soviet government sent him to a refuge far from the war front); he had also just escaped from an unhappy marriage (he brought his new girlfriend with him, and they collaborated on the libretto for "Betrothal in a Monastery"). The result was a brilliantly witty score filled with lyric melody. As expected, this production with Gergiev and the Kirov Opera is satisfyingly authoritative. The cast is excellent and Netrebko is outstanding. The sets are ingenious, the costumes are beautiful, and the commedia dell' arte ballet sequences are gorgeous. Audio quality is loud and clear. I am certain that you will enjoy this 20th-century comic masterpiece, this performance, and this DVD."
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 05/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Melodies flutter above the the lush thicket of Prokofiev's orchestration like cracked crystal dragonflies, defying the laws of musical gravity."
That's my lame attempt to evoke with words the angular eccentricity of Prokofiev's distinctive style. Nobody with a musical memory would ever mistake a Prokofiev melody for anyone else's. I'm very fond of Prokofiev's music. Though I wouldn't say he's a better composer than Shostakovitch or Schnittke, I listen to him more often, and I do think he's a better composer than his critics claim. Thus I hate it venomously when a rare production of one of his operas is unsatisfactory, and I love it when one succeeds. I love this production immeasurably.
For a modernist charged with using dissonance merely for shock value, Prokofiev is remarkably committed to extending musical traditions. Bethrothal in a Monastery is, formally speaking, a French Baroque opera-ballet. The frequent intermezzi of dance are equally interludes of orchestral development. If the dance is somewhat restrained, all the better for hearing the musical exposition! But Bethrothal in a Monastery is also a Rossini opera buffa par excellence. Rossini could have used the same libretto... and it's a shame he didn't. It would be fun to compare.
Set in 18th Century Seville but based on an English play by Sheridan, Bethrothal in a Monastery is the story of a miserly father and a beautiful daughter, Luisa. The father contracts a marriage for his daughter with an oafish fishmonger, Isaac Mendoza, purely for money. Luisa already has her willful heart set on Antonio, a handsome but impoverished nobleman. Luisa's brother Ferdinand scorns his father's wishes also and wants to marry Clara, who doubts his sincerity. Then there's the Duenna - the title character in Sheridan's play - who aspires to trap Mendoza for herself. Mendoza and the Duenna are broad commedia dell'arte buffoons; the music assigned them is as slapstick as the putty nose of the fishmonger and the clown make-up of the Duenna. Suffice it to say that all three couples are eventually united and the father reconciled to the matches.
Prokofiev himself prepared the libretto in collaboration with Mira Mendelson. It's excellent dramaturgy, concise and quick-moving, offering the composer a vehicle for condensing his musical thoughts scene by scene. The Kirov Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, realizes those musical thoughts with jolly precision. Bass Sergei Aleksashkin sings the bizarre swoops and bellows of Mendoza with ludicrous beauty, while Nikolai Gassiev, as the father, and Yuri Shkliar, as the pompous old meddlar Don Carlos, likewise succeed in making brilliant music out of clownish roles. The four handsome young folk all sing handsomely, as befits their characters. In proverbial terms, "handsome is as handsome does." Physical, musical, and ethical beauty are all congruent in Prokofiev's comedy.
Anna Netrebko as Luisa and Marianna Tarassova as Clara... the whole cast is Russian. A case could be made, based on this production, that all operas should be sung by native speakers of the libretto language. I don't understand a word of Russian, yet I heard the words of this opera as real tongue, with the full expressiveness of speech. Other productions of Russian opera, with mixed casts, have not made this impression. I've had the same good experience hearing Czeck singers sing Janacek and Italian singers sing Donizetti, and the corresponding ill experience hearing Europeans sing Britten. The peculiar vocables of Russian are part of the fun in Bethrothal. I wonder if Russian sounds as bizarre to Russians as it does to "us." Listening to Betrothal, I realized for the first time that Prokofiev's queer lurching melodies are precise imitations of Russian elocution.
Carnival is underway in Seville as the drama progresses, providing ample pretexts for a chorus, for dancers, and for fanciful dress. This is a period staging, with splendid sets and costumes. Each character's costume is a manifestation of that persona's moral and aesthetic stature. Fortunately for filming, the principals in this production all look physically convincing, with the gross Mendoza as ugly as an ape and with Luisa performed by the most beautiful woman in the world. I'm serious! If you know of a woman more beautiful than Anna Netrebko, please send me her photo! Her only rival is that Junoesque tennis star, Sharapova. There's an unfair distribution of talents here, friends! Netrebko sings as beautifully as she looks, and she can act, too! In any case, Betrothal in a Monastery is a visual feast.
The musical highlights are the quartet at the end of Act II and the meetings of the lovers in the garden of a nunnery in Act III, where Prokofiev mutes his sardonic jaggedness and lets his melodies flow gracefully.
Then there's the burlesque revel of the drunken monks, so vulgarly anti-religious that it might have served to placate Uncle Joe despite the composer's musical modernism. Satire of hypocritical monks was a standard element of European comedy from the Middle Ages onward, but I suspect "western" audiences will feel squeamish at these grotesqueries, as they might about the Jewishness of the greedy Mendoza, even though no overt anti-Semitism is expressed. Remember Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice? Prokofiev's humor is innocent by comparison.
This DVD has it all - great singing, gorgeous visuals, vivid acting, belly laughs, and fine technical work with cameras and mikes. I can't imagine not enjoying it, even if opera is not your usual choice of entertainment."
This one is sure to impress
Amateur reviewer | Cleveland, OH USA | 12/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really can't add much to the above, but I too wanted to rave about this DVD. I recently bought this for my opera-expert father-in-law, and now he is raving as well. It's the top-notch technical quality of the DVD, the superb casting and performances, and the wonderful staging and costumes that combine to make this all so impressive. Add to that a Shakespearean comedy storyline (women trading identities to fool men, all in the name of love), and it can't help but be delightful.
If you want to impress the opera lover in your life, go for this one, and get one for yourself, too!"