© Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Michael Pöhn


About the première and the production

The Gambler is the first of this year’s premières and opens on Wednesday, 4 October 2017. This is the first time that the Vienna State Opera has developed its own production of the opera by Sergei Prokofiev. The opera has previously been performed here only twice: in guest performances by the National Theatre of Belgrade in the year 1964.

The four-act opera with compelling music written by Prokofiev during the First World War is based on Dostoyevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel The Gambler, published in 1867. With analytical insight and a succinct style, he runs the gamut of topics from money and love, gambling addiction and despair, to wealthy grandmothers and poor generals. Prokofiev also wrote the libretto for the piece himself, in many instances using quotes drawn directly from Dostoyevsky’s novel. The opera takes place in Roulettenburg, a fictitious town bustling with characters in a tailspin, all of them greedy for money, gambling and affection. Like his literary source, Prokofiev’s opera is also divided into four acts, with a particular emphasis on declamatory style and sophisticated orchestration.

However, due to the political situation at the time, the piece only premièred ten years after its completion: in 1929 in Brussels, and then in French.

The current production is conducted by Simone Young. Since her début at the Wiener Staatsoper in 1993 with La Bohème, she will have conducted a total of thirty works, including the premières of Osud, Le villi, La Juive and the ballet evening Das Lied von der Erde, several revivals and musical new productions, as well as numerous evenings of repertoire works.

With The Gambler, internationally acclaimed Austrian director Karoline Gruber presents her second work for the opera house, where she was responsible for the production of Le villi in 2005.

Stage designer Roy Spahn and costume designer Mechthild Seipel have created a world centred on a carousel for this new production. Dramaturge Alexander Meier-Dörzenbach explains: “Neither Prokofiev’s nor Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler are about the red/black of roulette, but about weeding out definitive categories on the turntable of life; emotions ramped up to the extreme make polar opposites resemble each other to the point of being identical. Love and hate, purity and vice, happiness and distress, belief and unbelief, losing and winning – a definitive dichotomy seems to be eliminated, just like a rider on the carousel horse that gallops in a circle and yet does not move anywhere, just as Polina and Alexei hate each other out of love and love out of hate. It is the structural similarity of “red” and “black” that is the main theme.” All the characters in this production “are driven by the expectation that tomorrow everything will turn out for the better – regardless of how transparent this illusion may be or how far-fetched hope really is ...”.

The cast – role débuts at the Wiener Staatsoper

All the singers in the première are giving their role débuts at the Wiener Staatsoper in the performance on 4 October.

As Polina, Elena Guseva is making her début at the house. The soprano was born in Siberia and studied at the Moscow Conservatory amongst others and to date has been seen at the Stanislavski Theatre in Moscow, at the Hamburg State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, in Saarbrücken and in Toulouse, performing roles such as Mimì (La Bohème), Tatiana (Eugene Onegin), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Cio-cio-san (Madama Butterfly), Leonora (La forza del destino), Antonia and Stella (Les Contes d’Hoffmann) and Princess Yaroslavna (Prince Igor).

Alexei is performed by Ukrainian tenor Misha Didyk, already known to State Opera audiences as Sergei (Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk), Luka Kusmitch (From the House of the Dead), and Boris (Kátya Kabanová).

Linda Watson sings Bubulekna, her tenth role at the Wiener Staatsoper, where since her 1996 début in A Quiet Place the Californian soprano has enjoyed success as Brünnhilde (Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung), Elektra, Isolde (Tristan und Isolde) and most recently as the Marschallin (Der Rosenkavalier).

Dmitry Ulyanov sings the part of the General (in lieu of Dan Paul Dumitrescu), introducing himself to the Wiener Staatsoper audience with this role. The Russian bass celebrated a great success as Boris in Lady Macbeth von Mzensk at the Salzburg Festival 2017. Further performances lead the singer i.a. to Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Moscow, Amsterdam, Basel, Paris, Lyon and Tokyo with roles such as Daland (The Flying Dutchman), Philipp II. (Don Carlos), Dossifei (Khovanshchina), Hermann (Tannhäuser), Escamillo (Carmen), Pimen (Boris Godunov).

Ensemble members of the opera house on the Ring can be seen in other major roles: Thomas Ebenstein as Marquis, Elena Maximova as Blanche (her third première production at the opera house on the Ring after Maddalena in Rigoletto and Marfa in Khovanshchina), Morten Frank Larsen as Mr Astley, Pavel Kolgatin as Prince Nilsky, Marcus Pelz as Baron Würmerhelm, Clemens Unterreiner as Potapitch and Alexandru Moisiuc as the Casino Director.