L’amour des trois oranges, Opera by S. Prokofiev
In 1918, Sergey Prokofiev had fled the Russian Revolution and settled in Chicago. When a commission for a new opera came his way, he let his imagination run as far from the harsh reality of his present as possible. The result was L’amour des trois oranges, a fantastical satire with a lot of action and laughs. Its unchained humour is coming to Prague!
Prokofiev found inspiration for L’amour des trois oranges (or The Love for Three Oranges) after reading a translation of Carlo Gozzi’s comedy play L’amore delle tre melarance in a Russian theatrical magazine published by drama producer Vsevolod Meyerhold. Since an opera in Russian was out of the question and the composer’s English language ability was not up to muster, he crafted a libretto in French, infusing the original commedia dell’arte with distinct surrealist elements.
The plot of L’amour des trois oranges is centred around a somewhat paranoid Prince who is cursed by a witch to become infatuated with three oranges. As he acquires the coveted fruits, he finds out there is more to the curse: a beautiful princess jumps out of each cut orange and immediately asks for water. The first two times, the Prince fails to quench the princesses’ thirst and they perish, but the third time, as usual, is the charm.
To complement the zany plot, Prokofiev supplies a playful, humorous score that follows the best example of Offenbach’s comedies and builds upon it with the Russian master’s trademark energy and musical wit. The most widely known musical piece from L’amour des trois oranges is the ‘March’, but the rest of the score is just as engaging, funny, and innovative.
Prokofiev’s compositional talent and knack for jocular phrases makes the crazy action in L’amour des trois oranges all the more enjoyable. Characters’ wild escapades and sometimes cruel, gruesome ends seem entertaining and not at all disturbing in this surrealist mixture of fantasy and slapstick.
L’amour des trois oranges had its premiere on 30 December 1921 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago and garnered a very positive response. The over-the-top stage action and wildly entertaining score surely played their part. Productions throughout Europe followed in the coming years, and by the 1940s the work had become Prokofiev’s most-performed opera. Close to a century after its debut, L’amour des trois oranges still entertains, as Prague audiences will surely see.