So I finally found a way of getting the Kultur release of the 2008 Staatsoper unter den Linden production of Prokofiev’s The Gambler to work, with subtitles and all, though I had to go to my back up DVD player. As you will read below this is a very interesting and worthwhile DVD but whatever you do, don’t buy the Kultur release which is technically wonky and features sub-standard Dolby 2.0 sound. For heaven’s sake who is doing Dolby 2.0 on an opera DVD in 2008! The same recording is available on regionless DVD and Blu-ray from C-Major and in that release it features PCM 5.1 and LPCM stereo choices. There may even be some useful documentation which, as ever with Kultur, is minimal. There are also more subtitle choices on the C-Major version.
The Gambler is a quirky piece based on a short story by Dostoevsky and it’s mainly about obsession; whether with gambling or power or possession, in some sense, of another person. Director Dmitri Tcherniakov has chosen to set it in a contemporary casino hotel and uses the stage to display or evoke different rooms in the hotel, often simultaneously. He uses a palette of blues with lots of glass and vertical divisions between and within rooms. It’s very effective. He uses this setting to coax emotionally intense performances out of his cast.
The pick of the bunch is Misha Didyk as Alexei who goes through many moods but is always obsessive and pushing right to and beyond the point of madness. His singing and acting are superb. His principal foil is the Polina of Christine Opolais. She is contolling and manipulative and exudes boredom and disgust. It’s quite a performance. There’s strong support too from the General of Vladimir Ognovenko (who rather improbably gets into a fight with a teddy bear – perhaps the Berenice’s potato of this production), the elderly grandmother of Stefania Toczyska and the vampy Blanche of Sylvia de la Muela. This being Prokofiev there is a small army of minor characters who are all more than adequately played. Daniel Barenboim conducts a hard driven reading of the score ably supported by the Staatskapelle Berlin. It’s nice to see that the audience reaction was very positive and that the director got an enthusiastic reception at curtain call time.
The video direction of Karina Fibich is sympathetic though occasionally confusing. When a director compartmentalizes the stage space it does create some real difficulties for the video direction which are mostly overcome but there are definitely times when one feels one is missing something. The picture quality is quite excellent even on DVD.