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Frighteningly predictable or provocatively good? The Player at De Nederlandse Opera

Prokofiev's The Player is an hour and a half of drama, then after the interval it really becomes opera. This is not down to the soloists, not to the direction or sets, and certainly not to the excellent Residentie Orkest conducted by Marc Albrecht. Perhaps the music and libretto are too ingenious, Prokofiev was too faithful to Dostoevsky's book to make it a real opera. And perhaps Andrea Breth is too good a stage director for this opera. "Watch the surtitles especially carefully," she told me just before the premiere, "so you don't miss anything."

It is the upside-down world: all too often opera audiences have to put up with toe-curling librettos; here, an in itself beautiful score succumbs to too good a dramatic text and crystal-clear direction.

We get to see exactly what Prokofiev prescribes: a hotel, with the desperately and increasingly grimly in love house teacher Alexey, a retired general who is actually a colonel, a marquis in the role of usurer, a grandmother who just won't die and the fickle stepdaughter Polina.

Money is gambled, love proves not for sale and characters run in and out, making it almost look like a farce at times.

Seems so, because whereas in many a comic opera the farce is supposed to unfold mainly between the arias, even the most lateral emergence is not simply voiced by Prokofiev. He uses an almost Wagnerian system of motifs, albeit countless times faster, not often reduced to rhythmic patterns. It is the ultimate film music.

There is nothing to laugh at because of the pace and the score; on the contrary, everything works towards the finale, in which the roulette ball actually starts rolling. Martin Zehetgruber's set spins from the start, but nowhere is it as fascinating as in the scene between Aleksei and Polina, where Aleksei sighs, "If it weren't for Polina, I would watch this comedy and laugh my ass off!"

But she is there.

And the set turns.

Aleksej has to keep up. "Oh yes, the denouement is approaching," he warns.

In the final act, the impossible happens: twenty reds, Aleksej wins a fortune, but loses Polina and, above all, himself. Breth shows a desolate hotel room, a brightly lit casino with many mirrors, and again the desolate hotel room, from which Aleksej flees. To the casino, the intoxication.

With more than 30 roles - and a chorus that appears only briefly, in the Music Theatre once again exactly as Prokofiev prescribes not on stage but from the side balconies to make the theatrical space even larger - The Player is a huge challenge, which, especially in this direction, requires singers who can really act. That is certainly the case here, with the main roles featuring an unforgettable John Daszak (Aleksej) and, above all, an utterly elusive Polina by Sara Jakubiak.

But still: something is gnawing.

Was it all too perfect? With mere clever inventions? Frighteningly predictable or provocative because the audience does not get a performance where the concept is thought-provoking but everything comes purely from the almost century-old work? And then how good is that work?

[Tweet "After some thought: vedomd good: The Player DNO"]After some thought: vedomd good.

More by Prokofiev via Bol

Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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