The Gambler - Royal Opera House, 11 February 2010 (first night)
Richard Jones's production of Prokofiev's The Gambler is the Royal Opera House's first ever. It's a strange opera - no melody, no arias, more like a movie soundtrack with singers. Desperately hard work as a recording for all but the most devoted Prokofiev fans, it really needs a busy, intensely theatrical presentation to bring it to life. The music seems to accompany the action rather than defining or illustrating it, so the words are absolutely crucial.
It was a smart decision to present the opera in English, and even smarter to add supertitles - not all the singers had perfect diction. Or beautiful voices, come to that, but then this isn't bel canto - it's more about getting an economically-worded story across. Antonio Pappano's unflashy and well-paced conducting supported this aim with a sensitive ear for volume.
Richard Jones updated the action from the mid nineteenth century to some time in the 1920's, but apart from that, took few directorial liberties. Cleverly designed, well rehearsed, brilliantly acted - it was as good as the opera needs and some might say better than it deserves. Taken as a whole, it was an entertaining couple of hours, but pulled apart, it would be hard to deny that the weakest contribution came from the composer.
The action takes place in the German town of Roulettenbourg, a sort of Teutonic Vegas. This giant flashing Casino sign drops between acts to hide the scene changes:
(All photos by Clive Barda for the Royal Opera House)
***** story and loads more photos on next page *****