The Gambler (Prokofiev)

The Gambler (Prokofiev)

"The Gambler" (Russian: Игрок — "Igrok" in transliteration) is an opera in four acts by Sergei Prokofiev to a Russian libretto by the composer, based on the story of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Prokofiev had decided on this story as an operatic subject in 1914, and the conductor Albert Coates, of the Mariinsky Theatre, encouraged Prokofiev to compose this opera and assured him of a production at that theatre. [Porter, Andrew, "Prokofiev's Early Operas: "The Gambler". "The Love of Three Oranges" (August 1962). "The Musical Times", 103 (1434) 528-530.] Prokofiev wrote the opera in piano score between November 1915 and April 1916, and completed the orchestration in January 1917. [cite journal | url= |last=Robinson |first=Harlow | title=Dostoevsky and Opera: Prokofiev's "The Gambler" | journal=The Musical Quarterly | volume=LXX | issue=1 | pages=96–106 | year=2000 | accessdate=2007-08-18 | doi=10.1093/mq/LXX.1.96] Vsevolod Meyerhold was engaged as stage director. However, in the wake of the 1917 October Revolution, that production never occurred.

The opera did not receive its first performance until 1929, at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels.

The Bolshoi Opera performed the opera at the Metropolitan Opera (The Met) in New York City in 1975, but the Met mounted its own first production in March 2001. [cite news | url= | title=Spinning the Roulette Wheel With a Firm Russian Hand | publisher="New York Times" | author=Anthony Tommasini | date=21 March 2001 | accessdate=2007-08-17]



The setting is Roulettenberg, a fictional European spa resort in the 1860s.

Act 1

In the Grand Hotel garden, Alexei, tutor to the General's family, meets Polina, the General's ward, who is in debt to the Marquis. Alexei loves Polina, and informs her that he observed her directions to pawn her jewelry and gamble with the funds. However, he lost the money. The General is enamoured of the much younger demimondaine Blanche, and comes on the scene with her, the Marquis and Mr. Astley, an Englishman. When asked about his losses, Alexei says he lost his own savings. He is chided that someone of his modest income should not gamble, but Alexei dismisses the idea of saving money. The General then receives a telegram from Polina's grandmother ("Babushke") in Moscow, and prepares to reply. All of them wait for Babushke to die so that they can inherit her money and gamble with it.

Polina is angry that she cannot repay her debts to the Marquis. While Alexei continues to protest that he loves her, she wonders if nothing more than greed motivates him to gamble. The General interrupts their conversation, as he has just borrowed money from the Marquis and gives Alexei money to exchange for smaller bills. Polina then challenges Alexei to prove his love, and to see if he would truly do anything for her, by making a pass at a German Baroness sitting in the park. Alexei does this, to the anger of the Baron. In the ensuing fuss, the Baron and Baroness leave.

Act 2

In the hotel lobby, the General reproaches Alexei for his actions. Alexei is unrepentant, upon which the General dismisses him as his family tutor. The General then tries to obtain the help of the Marquis in preventing any appearance of a scandal. After the General and Marquis leave, Alexei returns and blames Polina for all his troubles. Mr. Astley enters, and he and Alexei talk of the General's worries of securing his chances with Blanche. Blanche had earlier asked the Baron for a loan, which upset the Baroness. Because of the high social status of the Baron and Baroness, the General is keen to avoid any sense of impropriety. Blanche then walks by, looking for the General. Astley further explains that the General cannot propose to Blanche until he receives his share of the inheritance from Babushke. Alexei begins to think that once Pauline receives her own share of the inheritance, the Marquis will attempt to win her over.

Mr. Astley leaves, and the Marquis appears, to try to mollify Alexei's behaviour on behalf of the General. Alexei is contemptuous to the Marquis, and then the Marquis produces a note from Polina, which calls on Alexei to stop behaving a schoolboy. Alexei denounces the Marquis and accuses him of making Pauline write the letter. Alexei leaves in anger. Blanche and the General then arrive and ask the Marquis of how it has gone with Alexei. The Marquis covers himself and says that he was successful in subduing Alexei.

The Marquis then asks of how Babushke is doing, and whether her death is imminent. The General predicts her death that same evening, but immediately afterwards, Babushke's voice is heard, as she has arrived at the hotel, in good health. She greets Polina with some affection, but at once she sees through the false faces of the General and the others. She says that she has overcome her illness and plans to recuperate, and gamble, at the spa. Blanche begins to think less well of the General, and the Marquis thinks of how he will outwit Babushke.

Act 3

At the casino, Babushke has been losing her money at the gambling tables, and ignoring all pleas to stop. The General is despondent and sees his chances with Blanche diminish as Babushke loses more money. Finally, after the Marquis tells just how much Babushke has lost, the General tries to summon the police, in the hope that they will take her away as senile and not in her right mind. The Marquis does not see this scenario playing out, and Blanche is further disillusioned with the General. Alexei arrives, and the General and the Marquis ask for his help to halt Babushke's gambling losses. Prince Nilsky, another potential suitor to Blanche, then arrives and further enumerates Babushke's losses. The General collapses, distraught, and then runs into the casino. Blanche departs with Nilsky. Alexei wonders of what will happen with Polina's family, after Babushke's financial losses. Polina appears, and Alexei and Polina begin to converse. However, Babushke interrupts the conversation, exhausted and depleted of funds. Babushke wants to go home to Moscow, and has asked Mr. Astley for money for the train fare. Babushke asks Polina to come with her, but Polina declines. Grandma leaves, and the General is back from the casino, angry at Babushke's losses and his own loss of Blanche to Nilsky.

Act 4

In his hotel room, Alexei finds Pauline, who has a letter from the Marquis. Alexei reads it and understands that the Marquis is under strain from his own loans to the General. The Marquis wants Pauline to pay her debts to him by saying that if he were forced to sue, her own inheritance would be jeopardized. Alexei is deliriously pleased that Pauline has turned to him for assistance.

In the casino, Alexei has a run of good luck, winning twenty times in a row, to the amazement of his fellow gamblers. He even breaks the bank, and after that the gaming tables are shut down for the evening. After an entr'acte, the other patrons continue to talk about Alexei's run. Alexei has collected his winnings and returns to his room. There, he begins to hear the voices of the croupiers and the other gamblers. He then senses that Pauline has been waiting for him. He offers her funds to pay the Marquis back. She refuses and asks whether he really loves her. For a moment, he seems to respond, and there is a fleeting thought that they will run off together. However, she resumes her former harsh manner and demands the money, telling him that her love is just a commodity. Alexei gives her the money, but she tosses it back in his face and runs out. The opera ends with Alexei alone in the room, recalling obsessively his run of gambling luck.

elected recordings

* Philips 454559: Nikolai Gassiev, Ljubov Kazarnovskaya, Marianna Tarassova, Valery Lebed, Sergey Aleksashkin, Vladimir Galusin, Elena Obraztsova, Alexander Shubin, Andrei Khramtsov, Elena Mirtova, Erik Eglit, Evgeny Kochergin, Gennadi Bezzubenkov, Gennady Anikin, Gregory Zastavny, Lia Shevtzova, Liubov Sokolova, Liudmilla Kannunnikova, Olga Kondina, Sergei Naida, Sergei Yukhmanov, Vladimir Zhivopistsev, Yevgeny Fedotov, Yuri Dolgopolov, Yuri Zhikalov; Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre; Valery Gergiev, conductor (1996 recording)




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