The Gambler was Prokofiev's second opera but his first large scale drama. The score was completed in 1916 and was based upon the Dostoyevsky novella of the same name. Dostoyevsky, being addicted to gambling, knew what he was writing about and the sense of humiliation of loosing was well translated by the composer. The story revolves around Babulenka, an aged wealthy woman whose death is eagerly anticipated by her nephew, the General, whose gambling debts have put him in the power of the sinister Marquis. The General has a daughter named Paulina who he uses as collateral with the Marquis. The hero of the story is Alexsey, who is a tutor in the General's household and has a love-hate relationship with Paulina. Paulina amuses herself by forcing Alexsey to gamble with her money and humiliates him when he looses. The action of the story takes place at an imaginary German city aptly called Roulettenburg.
Such powerful emotions gave Prokofiev a great opportunity to write expressive music and he reflects the emotions of his characters marvelously. The orchestra provides musical commentary on the characters as well as setting the mood for the action; the music is highly expressive. Later, Prokofiev was to create his orchestra suite Four Portraits from the Gambler from the music of the opera. The denouement of the opera comes when Babulenka arrives at Roulettenburg and proceeds to loose her entire fortune. To say Paulina, Alexsey heads for the gambling tables and breaks the bank. He brings this fortune to Paulina who spurns him and gives herself over to the Marquis. The Four Acts of the Opera are neatly compact with music that is very expressive of the action. I was lucky enough to see a production by Lyric Opera (conducted by Bruno Bartoletti) and was entranced by the flow of the action and how descriptive the orchestra is with the story. It is as if the orchestra is telling the story in music.
This recording has a strong cast headed by Vladimir Galuzin as Alexsey and Sergei Alexashkin as the General. Liubov Kazarnoskaya is a splendid Paulina and Elena Obraztsova is a perfect Babulenka whose voice commands attention as she issues orders to one and all. Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra are wonderful in bringing Prokofiev's score to life, particularly in the impending doom of the Fourth Act. This recording is certainly the best that is available and anyone with an interest in Russian opera will want a copy.