Kirov Opera Metropolitan Opera New York : A production for the ears, not the eyes

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Valery Gergiev has been a champion of Prokoviev for a long time. He made his debut at the Kirov conducting War and Peace in 1978 and is now a committed advocate of Prokoviev's neglected opera Betrothal in a Monastery, which was premiered at the Kirov in 1946. Based on Sheriden's play of the same name, it's a comedy about filial disobedience. Prokoviev responds to it with a most engaging blend of farce and lyricism. His music switches from the grotesque to the romantic, often in abrupt transitions. It mostly sounds wonderful, played by the Kirov Orchestra propelled by Gergiev. He responds particularly well to Prokoviev's impetus, the way it moves forward all the time, generally in a variety of dance forms. Betrothal in a Monastery looks back not so much to his opera A Love for Three Oranges, as to his ballet score of Romeo and Juliet. Occasionally, it does outstay its welcome; even if the production had been competent I imagine the long, tedious, unfunny monks' drinking scene would need radical surgery. Ditto for the over-extended finale.

The Kirov's welcome guest season at the Met features an enterprising series of neglected work. The good thing about their Betrothal in a Monastery is that it led to a recording for Philips, already released in the US and extremely enjoyable.

Gergiev has a great track record of finding and nurturing new vocal talent. Several stars shine brightly here, foremost among them the soprano Anna Netrebeko. Her lustrous, richly coloured voice marks her out at once. Larissa Diadkova makes much, almost too much, of the title role and is ably complemented by another glorious Russian mezzo, Marianna Tarossova. Among the men Vassily Gerello wielded an impressive baritone voice but he was limited to hand-on-sword hilt posturing. Vladislav Pazi's production was cliche-ridden, inept and full of repellent simpering and flouncing. Twirling extras, dressed in kitsch, lurex-rich designs by Alla Kozhenkova abused the name of Commedia dell'Arte. This production reeked of provincialism and did Prokoviev a major disservice.

Listening to the recording makes you long to see a sympathetically choreographed production. The best that can be said is that the case for Betrothal in a Monastery has yet to be made on stage.

Further performances until 9May at New York Met.

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