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The Love for Three Oranges
(by Sergei Prokofiev)

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Opera with a prologue and four acts.

Written in 1919.

Premiere: USA: Chicago Lyric Theater, 30 December 1921. USSR: Marinsky Theater, Leningrad (now St Petersberg), 18 Febuary 1926.

Libretto: Sergei Prokofiev, bases on Carlo Gozzi's play, Fiabla dell'amore delle tre melarancie (Love Fable of Three Oranges).

Tragedy, Comedy, Lyric Drama and Farce are discussing what kind of entertainment should be performed. Suddenly masked characters (the Ridiculous People, played by actors who represent the members of the audience) burst in and demand that an opera be shown.

Act 1
The Prince, the King's son and heir, is suffering from melancholy which his doctors say will prove fatal unless someone can make him laugh. So the King orders comic entertainments.

However, the King's enemies, Princess Clarisse amd the prime minister Leandro, are trying to prevent any laughter as they are hoping to install Clarice on the throne. Leandro feeds the Prince tragic verses to keep him in a serious mood. Clarice and Leandro try to stop the court clown, Truffaldino, making him laugh.

Act 2
The first entertainments do not amuse the Prince, but then by accident the evil sorceress, Fata Morgana, slips and falls -- and the Prince laughs.

Fata Morgana is enraged and makes him fall in love with three oranges. The Prince has to find them and he sets out at once into the desert, accompanied by the little devil Farfarello and the clown Truffaldino.

Act 3
Chelio, the King's magic protector, comes to the Prince's aid, discovering that the oranges are located in the castle of Creonte. Chelio helps the Prince and Truffaldino steal the oranges from the castle -- with the aid of a magic ribbon to distract the Cook. Chelio warns that the oranges must only be opened near water.

The Prince and the clown carry the oranges into the desert but find that the latter have grown very large and heavy. The Prince falls asleep. Truffaldino is thirsty and, forgetting Chelio's warning, cuts one orange open while he is still far from any water. A beautiful princess emerges and asks for water. Hoping to find water, Truffaldino opens a second orange. Another princess steps out of this orange and she too asks for water. Both princesses faint away. Truffaldino runs away.

The Prince awakes and finds the two princesses, both dead. He cuts open the third orange. Out steps Princess Ninetta. The Prince and Ninetta fall in love. Fortunately the Ridulous People arrive with a bucket of water and she survives.

Smeralina, Fata Morgana's servant, changes Princess Ninetta into a rat. The King and his courtiers arrive. Smeraldina convinces the King that the Prince promised to marry her.

Act 4
Fata Morgana, the evil sorceress who is also an enemy of the King, is locked up by the Ridiculous People while they await the arrival of the King's protector, Chelio. The King, the Prince and Smeraldina arrive and are shocked to see a giant rat sitting on the King's throne. But Chelio succeeds in changing the rat back into Princess Ninetta.

The King orders the traitors Clarice, Leandro and Smeraldina to be executed but they escape together with Fata Morgana.

The Ridiculous People drink a toast to the happy couple, the Prince and his Princess Ninetta.

Study Notes on The Love for Three Oranges

The libretto for this opera is anti-naturalistic and some would say actually quite silly (with the Prince falling in love with three large oranges).

But at the same time it is a delightful fairy tale, wherein true love is patient and endures tribulations -- and finally triumphs.

The pace of the opera is fast right from beginning to end -- right up to a high-speed finale. This leaves little room for arias.

Musically the opera synthesizes two different strands of Prokofiev's music: the aggressive and rhythmically-driven Scythian Suite (in which the composer had attempted to imitate the primitive life rhythms of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring) and the refined elegance of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony.

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Author: David Paul Wagner
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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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