Modernism meets the Midwest: Prokofiev's A love for three oranges




McNeil, Bethany Marie

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Sergei Prokofiev's A Love for Three Oranges is the operatic version of a 16th - century Italian fable with a French libretto written in the Russian 20th-century modernist style for an American audience. The opera's problematic reception at its premiere is not altogether surprising, but the reasons for its lack of early critical success merit closer inspection. American audiences did not yet have the grounding in the techniques of modernism then being employed by European composers at the time Oranges was premiered in 1921, nor did they understand the commedia dell 'arte traditions of the story and its stock characters. The musical language Prokofiev chose for his opera was also largely misunderstood by its first audiences. The dramatically logical, declamatory melodies were interpreted as altogether unmelodic and the "lack of singable tunes" was taken as a mark of insubstantiality. The considerable number of themes and motives employed to progress the plot are not subjected to extensive development and in many cases are repeated only rarely. Initially, it can be difficult to hear the subtle connections interwoven among the associative material, and as the opera was given only two performances during its premiere run, many critics and connoisseurs were unable to discern Prokofiev's sophisticated compositional ideal. This thesis attempts to assess Prokofiev's theory of opera as a dramatically logical entity and the level of success with which he manifested that theory in A Love for Three Oranges. In addition, the reasons for its lack of popular success will be addressed and analyzed.



Prokofiev, Sergey, criticism and interpretation