Eddie, Lance, Eric, and I saw *The Love For Three Oranges* at Opera Philadelphia on 9/27/19. It’s an opera from 1921 by Sergei Prokofiev (of *Peter and the Wolf* fame), commissioned by the Chicago Opera Association. Prokofiev naturally wrote it in Russian, but since Chicago audiences wouldn’t go for that, it was translated into French for the premiere. This production was done in English, and it worked perfectly in English.
It’s a madcap opera, a wacky, somewhat convoluted story about a prince having a curse placed on him that he will fall in love with three oranges. He finds the three oranges, who are of course represented by singing women. Two of them die, the remaining orange is magically transformed into a human female, they’re married, and they all live happily ever after.
The music was endlessly inventive - - sparkling, vigorous, and bristling with wit. There were many moments when the audience laughed out loud, which is rare at the opera. The director should, of course, receive much of the credit for these laughs, but it’s really Prokofiev who made them happen. The overall mood is unbridled joy, I was grinning like an idiot throughout the show.
Though as wonderful as the music was, there was not much that stuck in the ear, with the exception of the earworm-worthy “March from *Love For Three Oranges.*”
This tune is so catchy and so unlike anything else in the opera, it makes me wonder if someone in Chicago said to Prokofiev, “Hey, Sergei - - this show is what we Midwesterners call ‘a wee bit peculiar.’ I think your only chance of having people remember it at all is if you randomly insert a hit tune into it. Got any memorable melodic fragments in your files, something you could spruce up and stick in? Thanks a bunch.”
Conductor Corrado Rovaris brought out all the verve and variety in the score. Chorus master Elizabeth Braden gets top marks for her work - - the writing for chorus is demanding, and they not only sounded secure, they sounded like they were having a good time. Director Alessandro Talevi perfectly captured the wacky tone of the show. This is just the kind of production they should be doing at the New York City Opera
The show had a large and expert cast. Four singers stood out: bass Zachary James as the cook, who made the most of his strong, ripe voice and was delightfully over the top in his performance. Tenor Barry Banks played Truffaldino, the prince’s wingman. He has a pleasantly bright voice, sang with style, and wonderfully embodied the spirit of the production. Soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer was Fata Morgana, the witch who curses the prince. She totally took over in her scenes, clearly she was seizing her moment and having a ball. And tenor Jonathan Johnson was the prince - - he has a lovely voice and sang with touching ardor, his grounded singing provided an emotional core to the kooky show. I’m keeping my eye out for him.
Off topic, the Academy of Music in Philadelphia is one of the most beautiful opera houses I've ever been in. I'll definitely be going back.