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Kirov Opera Performs in New York

April 27, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Many great operas are billed as comedies. Not all of them are. One exception is Prokofiev’s ``Betrothal in a Monastery,″ a remarkably witty and innovative production by the Kirov Opera Festival at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Its plot is similar to Rossini’s ``The Barber of Seville″ _ young woman uses tricks, disguises and other devices to avoid being married to an old man. It’s also set in Seville. But Prokofiev’s version gives us not one but three couples engaging in high farce to end up marrying against the wishes of their elders.

First performed in 1946, 164 years after ``Barber,″ ``Betrothal in a Monastery″ had seldom been seen in the West until the production of the St. Petersburg-based Kirov opened Saturday night, directed by Vladislav Pazi and conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Act 1 features several orchestral passages, with dancers from the Kirov Ballet playing ``carnival revelers.″ In the first scene, four women wear headdresses cleverly representing fish, setting the scene for wealthy fish merchant Isaac Mendoza to hatch his plot to marry Don Jerome’s and corner the fish trade.

Later, when the romantic couples are sorting themselves out, orchestral passages are lyrical, reminiscent of Prokofiev’s ``Romeo and Juliet″ ballet music. Act 1 ends with a musically touching quartet, in which two characters extol young love, another believes in romance at any age and the fourth has only memories.

The plot is based on a play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great Irish comic playwright, and although intricate, it unfolds lucidly in the hands of an accomplished cast.

Louisa wants to marry Antonio, a poor young man (sung by tenor Yevgeny Akimov), instead of the elderly Mendoza. Her duenna, or governess, who is not young, wants to marry Mendoza for his money.

The duenna waves around a love letter from Antonio and pretends she’s delivering it to Louisa. Louisa’s father reacts as she had hoped; he locks her in the house and fires the duenna. The two women change clothes and Louisa leaves the house to get together with Antonio. The duenna, heavily veiled, flirts with Mendoza when he comes to call on Louisa. Her flirting is unsubtle but successful.

The backdrop of the set designed by Alla Kozhenkova is a large fan-shaped device which moves on hinges to reveal characters in silhouette or to create an intimate setting on the big Met stage.

Larissa Diadkova excelled as the duenna. Anna Netrebko, with a voice that is sweet but carries, was also impressive as the daughter, Louisa.

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