World première of the "Gambler" at the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia.
Moscow, 5 June 2001.
The first version of the "The Gambler" (1915-1916) was composed just before the Russian Revolution. Great artists were to become the first creators of the production: Vsevolod Meyerhold, producer, and Alexander Golovin, set designer.
But, in the wake of the February Revolution, projects for the production of the opera were pushed to one side and were talked about with decreasing confidence. As a matter of fact, Prokofiev never heard in his own lifetime a performance of his first version of "The Gambler". He wrote a second version of his opera which was premiered, in Bruxelles' Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (1929).
Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who was the first to perform "The Gambler" in Russia (1963), prepared the opera's first version which is quite different from the well-known second one. He gathered together, and collaborated with very strong artistic forces: Alexander Titel as producer and David Borovsky as set designer together with excellent singers of the Bolshoi Opera, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre Company.
I consider this production to be the one which points to new directions in the development of the Bolshoi Theatre. The opera's nervous unbalance and concentrated expression are heard in an entirely new way within the old walls of the Bolshoi (The second version of "The Gambler" having been heard previously on this stage in 1974 and 1981).
The soloists sang Prokofiev's difficult melodies very expressively. Olga Guriakova stood out as an especially fine singer. She sang two Polinas in the second version of "The Gambler" (at the Metropolitan Opera), as well as the long and passionate love duet between Alexei and Polina in this first version.
David Borovsky created impressive and stylish set design: dark wood, glass and gold. Three parts of the stage design revolve on a separate axis.This gigantic roulette symbolizes Life - in which everybody tries to win the hand of Fate.
Producer Alexander Titel carried the action into contemporary life, thus linking the action of Dostoevski's novel together with historical fact. Russian emigrants are pushed out from their Motherland by revolutionary events and search for luck in a strange land.
Gennady Rozhdestvensky demonstrated in this production an almost forgotten level of musical excellence. There was a wonderful Scherzo interlude after the scene of roulette, where Alexei rushes to Polina after his great win, which had been transformed in the second version. Now, in this first version, with Rozhdestvensky's interpretation, this entire act has been turned into the bright culmination of the performance.
Unfortunately, this outstanding creation happens to be the first and the last at the same time. This great conductor passed the performance on to his assistant and left the theatre. Bureaucratic routines of the theatre and lone genius are incompatible.