The player (opera)

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Opera dates
Title: The player
Original title: 1) Игрок (Igrok)
2) Le joueur
The reverse of a 100 ruble Bank of Russia coin with a scene from the opera

The reverse of a 100 ruble Bank of Russia coin with a scene from the opera

Shape: Opera in four acts
Original language: 1) Russian
2) Russian, French translation
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto : Sergei Prokofiev
Literary source: Dostoevsky : The player
Premiere: 1) June 5, 2001
2) April 29, 1929
Place of premiere: 1) Bolshoi Theater , Moscow
2) Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie , Brussels
Playing time: approx. 2 ¼ hours
Place and time of the action: Imaginary town of Roulette Castle near Spa , 1865


  • General (Генерал) a. D. in civilian clothes ( bass )
  • Polina / Pauline (Полина), stepdaughter of the general ( soprano )
  • Alexej / Alexis (Алексей), tutor of the general's children ( tenor )
  • Babulenka / grandmother (Бабуленька), rich relative of the general ( mezzo-soprano )
  • Marquis, (Маркиз) (tenor)
  • Mr. Astley (Мистер Астлей), a rich Englishman ( baritone )
  • Mile. Blanche (Мадемуазель Бланш), a demimondaine ( Old )
  • Prince Nilski / Nilsky (Князь Нильский) ( falsetto tenor)
  • Baron Wurmerhelm (Барон Вурмергельм) (bass)
  • Potapytsch (Потапыч) (baritone)

Roulette scene

  • Casino Director (Bass)
  • first croupier (tenor)
  • second croupier (tenor)
  • a fat Englishman (bass)
  • a long Englishman (bass)
  • a colorful lady (soprano)
  • a pale lady (soprano)
  • a lady "comme ci comme ça" (mezzo-soprano)
  • a venerable lady (mezzo-soprano)
  • a suspicious old woman (old)
  • a heated player (tenor)
  • a sick player (tenor)
  • a hunchbacked player (tenor)
  • an unsuccessful player (baritone)
  • an old player (bass)
  • six players (2 tenors, 2 baritones, 2 basses)


  • Baroness Wurmerhelm, head waiter, hotel boy ( silent roles )
  • Servants of the Babulenka: Fjodor / Féodor, the other Fjodor / Théodor and Marfa / Marthe (silent roles)
  • Players, hotel guests, servants, porters ( choir )
  • Voices in the orchestra or behind the scene in the interlude to IV.3

The Gambler (Russian: Игрок , Igrok ; French: Le joueur ) is an opera in four acts and six pictures by Sergei Prokofiev based on the novel The Gambler by Dostoyevsky . Prokofiev composed the work between 1915 and 1917. In the year of the revolution, however, there was no prospect of a world premiere. Twelve years later he revised the opera. The premiere finally took place on April 29, 1929 at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels.


first act

First picture - park of a large hotel in Roulettenburg

Alexej works as a tutor for a former Russian general who took him and his family and stepdaughter Polina to Roulettenburg. Everything there revolves around gambling. On behalf of Polina, Alexej moved her diamonds, used the money in the game and lost everything. He loves Polina, but she loves the rich Marquis more. The old general, on the other hand, is courting the demi-world lady Blanche, who is only interested in his money. He has already borrowed money from the Marquis at high interest rates and gambled it away at roulette. Everyone is now hoping for the early death of the apparently seriously ill Babulenka, a rich relative of the general, and for her inheritance. A telegram announced that she actually only had a few days left to live. The Marquis and Blanche urge the general to inquire again by telegram.

When Blanche tells the general about Alexei's loss of the game, he claims that the 6,000 guilders he lost were his own wages, which had increased due to interim winnings. Blanche and the Marquis advise him to make his living in a more reliable way. Alexei says, however, that his “Tartar blood” rebels against the hard work and life of ordinary people. The Englishman Mr. Astley likes this answer, and he invites Alexej over for a cigar.

After the others left, Polina reproaches Alexej for the money she lost. He justifies himself by saying that he cannot play for others. Once he play for himself he'll win and give her all the money she wants. Because of his feelings towards her, he is her "slave". But one day he will kill her - not because he no longer loves her or is jealous, but because he wants to "eat her up completely". All you have to say is a word and he will plunge into an abyss. Polina regards such a sacrifice as "completely pointless".

The general signs a receipt for another loan from the Marquis, although it is written out for double the amount of the money received.

To find out how serious Alexei is, Polina asks him if he would kill for her too. When Alexej confirms this, she asks him to say something French to the German baroness Wurmerhelm, just for fun. She didn't want to see tragedy, she just wanted to laugh when the baron beat him up with his stick. Alexei pays the baroness a few stammering French compliments, which arouses her husband's anger.

Second act

Second picture - hotel lobby

As the baron complained to the general about Alexej's behavior and demanded consequences, Alexej dismissed him from his service. He even forbids Alexej to apologize to the baroness, since she would find it humiliating. He himself had already asked the baron for forgiveness and promised him that Alexei would leave his house today. Alexei is offended by the general's interference. He feels completely innocent and explains that only his limitless respect prevents him from challenging him to a duel. Tomorrow he would ask the baron for clarification. Fearing another scandal, the general asked the Marquis to mediate.

Mr. Astley explains the Baron's behavior to Alexei: Blanche, the general's current fiancée, had been here two years earlier with an Italian prince. The latter suddenly disappeared and Blanche began an affair with the Baron until the Baroness put an end to the affair. Now, of course, Blanche doesn't want to attract the Baroness's attention, because that could endanger her marriage to the general. When Mr. Astley explains to Alexej that everyone is waiting for Babulenka's inheritance, the latter realizes that this also applies to Polina, because only then does she receive her trousseau. She will then throw herself into the arms of the Marquis.

On behalf of the general, the marquis asked Alexej to abandon his plans and not speak to the baron. Alexei rejects that. The general no longer has any leverage because he has already dismissed Alexei. Even if the general arranged for him to be sent away, Mr. Astley would go to the baron in his place. He couldn't turn back Mr. Astley, a lord's nephew. Thereupon the Marquis gives Alexei a letter from Polina, in which she asks him to drop the matter. Alexej gives in, disappointed. He wonders, however, why the Marquis has such power over Polina that she writes letters on his behalf.

The general called by Blanche and the Marquis thanks for the help of the Marquis and confirms once again that the Babulenka will surely bless the temporal this evening. But exactly at this moment the supposedly terminally ill arrives in person with three servants. She rebukes the others for their behavior and explains that after a short break she wants to go to the roulette. Alexej should advise her on this. There was no way the general would get any money from her.

Third act

Third picture - hotel salon next to the gaming room

The general is appalled by the steadily increasing game losses of the Babulenka, which are already 15,000. The Marquis enters and reports that she is now selling her securities and has already lost 40,000. The general wants to declare her crazy and have her arrested. The Marquis does not want to know anything about this. Blanche shows the general her true colors and mocks him for his alleged inheritance. Marquis and Baron ask Alexej in vain to stop the Babulenka from playing any further. Then Prince Nilski arrives with the news that the losses are already 100,000 - according to other information it is already five million. The general rushes into the gaming room with the marquis. Blanche and Nilski also leave. Alexei calls for Polina, who has since received a passport from the Marquis, and offers her his help. Now the Babulenka returns and announces that she has lost everything and that she wants to go home with the help of a loan from Mr. Astley. After all, she still owns three villages and two houses. Polina should come to Moscow with her and live with her. This declines with thanks. After the Babulenka has withdrawn, the general desperately seeks entry into her room, but her servant Potapytsch firmly rejects him. The general complains that the ungrateful Blanche has now turned to this shabby Prince Nilski.

Fourth act

Fourth picture - Alexey's chamber

After Alexej took the Babulenka to the train station, he found Polina in his room. She shows him a letter from the Marquis, in which he informs her that he had to leave for Petersburg in order to cash in on the general's loan collateral. He is no longer interested in a relationship with Polina, but reduces his demands by 50,000 francs, which the general had apparently previously borrowed from her. Polina is angry about this behavior. She would love to throw the money in his face - but where should she get it from? She doesn't want to ask the Babulenka or Mr. Astley for help. Alexej has an idea. He asks Polina to wait for him and hurries out of the room.

First interlude

Fifth picture - game room

In the midst of a crowd of excited roulette players, Alexej keeps betting on red and wins again and again. Even a short setback, when he bet on the middle dozen and loses in between, does not disrupt the concept: “I have to, I have to, I have to win!” He successfully bet on red again until his win is 60,000 and the croupier closes the table. Then he goes into the next room to another roulette table, where the action is repeated, as the comments of the players and the casino director indicate. After the second table has also been closed, he moves to the third room, where he breaks the bank for the third time. He eventually leaves the casino with a profit of 200,000. Some players see this as revenge for the many losers. However, the director knows that Alexej will come back: "He is damned."

Second interlude

Sixth picture - Alexey's chamber

With the lingering voices of the players still in his head, Alexej returns to his room, where he wants to give Polina the 50,000. However, she refuses to accept the money. She does not want a present, nor does she believe that she, the Marquis' lover, is worth so much. As if in hysteria, she exclaims that she hate Alexei and that he should buy her if he still wanted her. Alexej manages to calm her down with difficulty. They consider leaving the city together and catching up with Babulenka in Berlin. The brief moment of hope, however, quickly passes. Polina asks Alexei for the 50,000, then throws them in his face and runs away. Alexei remains confused. His thoughts turn back to the roulette: "Who would have thought ... Red came twenty times."


The opera is composed through and consists of a continuous, flexible musical declamation. Models may have been Modest Mussorgski's opera fragment The Marriage or Alexander Dargomyschski's opera The Stone Guest . Mussorgsky, however, placed more emphasis on the intonation of the speech , while Prokofiev's people “speak singing”. He himself wrote that the large amount of dialogue in the original was very convenient for him, as it allowed him to preserve Dostoyevsky's style . The scenic design was particularly important to him - an aspect that, in his opinion, has been neglected in recent Russian operas. He made the instrumentation as transparent as possible in order to ensure the greatest possible understandability of the text. He considered the "usual rhyming libretti" to be "completely pointless and outdated". He described the penultimate picture in the casino as the highlight of the opera. Instead of a choir, which he considered immobile and not effective on the stage, he used a large number of individually characterized soloists. In order to clarify the scenic concept, Prokofiev also dispensed with elements such as flashbacks, memories or speculations of the main character Alexej, who appears as the first-person narrator in the novel.

The opera has four characteristic main roles: the domestica Alexej, the grandmother ("Babulenka") as a relic of the Russian nobility, the lost general and the young noblewoman in the conflict between finances and feelings. All other persons are only used as keywords.

Apart from brief declamatory interjections in the roulette scene, the composer dispensed with ariosis, choir and ensemble pieces. The orchestra is responsible for characterizing the characters. Prokofjew uses vocal melodic formulas as leitmotifs , which, however, are not developed symphonically as with Richard Wagner . In the roulette scene, which is formally laid out as a rondo , a special motif represents the turning wheel and the bouncing ball functions as a ritornello . The heckling of the various players contribute to the timbre.


The orchestral line-up for the opera includes the following instruments:

Work history


Sergei Prokofiev decided to set Dostoyevsky's novel The Gambler from 1866 to music while he was still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory . He came up with a specific plan in 1914 when he was in London. The choreographer Sergei Dyagilev , whom he told about it, advised him to compose a ballet instead. This is how the ballet Ala i Lolli came into being, but it was never performed. Through Alexander Siloti , Prokofiev got in touch with Albert Coates , the conductor of the Mariinsky Theater , who promised him a performance of his opera there. Although his studies were actually finished, Prokofiev went back to the Conservatory in September 1915 to avoid military service. In parallel to his organ studies there, he began working on his opera in November 1915. After reading the novel again, he created the libretto from it. For the most part, these are shortened and expanded original dialogues from the template. He completely rewrote the roulette scene.

According to Prokofiev's autobiography, the opera was written during his search for “a language for strong emotions”. The piano reduction was completed in just five and a half months, and the score was completed in January 1917. The first rehearsal with orchestra took place in January. However, the singers protested against what they thought were too difficult roles, and the theater's artistic autonomy after the February Revolution ultimately led to production being abandoned in May 1917. The director Vsevolod Meyerhold , who was scheduled to replace Nikolai Bogolyubov in 1917, made two unsuccessful attempts at the Bolshoi Theater in 1922 and at the Mariinsky Theater in 1923 to accommodate the work.

In 1927 and 1928 Prokofiev revised his opera and in particular simplified the singing parts and the instrumentation. On April 5, 1928, he wrote to Nikolai Myaskovsky that it was "essentially a completely new version, even if the main topics and the plan remained." In his autobiography recalled his motivation:

“The ten years that had passed since the composition gave me the opportunity to see clearly what was music in it and what was filled with terrible chords. I threw out these passages and replaced them with something else that I took mainly from those sections that I thought were successful. "

- Sergei Prokofiev : autobiography


At the premiere of the new version on April 29, 1929 in the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels , a French translation by Paul Spaak was played. The production was by Georges Dalman, the stage by Jean Delescluze and the costumes by James Thiriar. Corneil de Thoran was the musical director. The soloists were Milorad Yovanovitch (General), Lily Leblanc (Polina), José Lens (Alexej), Simone Ballard (Babulenka), G. Rambaud (Marquis), Emile Colonne (Mr. Astley), Yvonne Andry (Blanche), Henri Marcotty (Prince Nilski and 1st croupier), Georges Clauzure (Baron Wurmerhelm), Mme. Nayaert (Baroness Wurmerhelm), Jules Salès (Potapytsch and long Englishman), Alexis Boyer (director), Mr. De Roy (2nd croupier), Roger Lefèvre (fat Englishman), Liliane Delcampe (colorful lady), Alma Borodine (pale lady), Lisette Denié (lady “comme ci comme ça”), Germaine Lamprenne (adorable lady), Mencette Gianini (suspicious old woman), Maria Prick (hotter Player), François Deckers (sick player), Hector Dognies (hunchbacked player), Mr. Bevernage (unsuccessful player) and Pol Gilson (old player).

The production turned out to be very successful. Critics even wrote of "Mozart in the tonal language of our time". The work stayed on the schedule in Brussels for two years.


Meyerhold's further attempts to accommodate the opera in Leningrad or Moscow were unsuccessful, as the emigrated composer was viewed as an opponent of the system. After he returned home in 1936, the work no longer suited the current ideology of socialist realism . Therefore, it was not until 1963 that a Russian premiere was performed in Moscow under Gennady Roshdestvensky . Other important performances were:

The first performance was on December 5, 1991 at the Mariinsky Theater, the originally planned location for the premiere . Since then, there have been two more productions there, premiered on June 18, 1996 and June 21, 2007, respectively.

In 1931 Prokofiev created the symphonic suite Four Portraits and Finale from The Player for large orchestra with the five movements "Alexej", "Babulenka", "The General", "Polina" and "The Exit". Since the opera is not divided into separate numbers, Prokofiev tore up a piano reduction and collected the pages in stacks of paper for the respective characters on the floor. The final sentence is a concentrate of the roulette scene. This work with the opus number 49 was premiered on March 12, 1932 in Paris.


  • Mar. 14, 1963 - Gennady Roshdestvensky (conductor), Choir and Orchestra of Radio Moscow.
    Gennadi Troitzki (General), Nina Poljakowa (Polina), Viktor Machow (Alexej), Tamara Antipowa (Babulenka), Andrei Sokolow (Marquis), Boris Dobrin (Mr. Astley), Anna Matjuschina (Blanche), Wladimir Tsarski (Prince Nilski) , Iwan Petuchow (Baron Wurmerhelm), Iwan Budrin (Potapytsch).
    Melodia C 0697-0702 (3 LPs); Ultraphone ULPS 163-65 (3 LPs).
  • 1966 - Gennady Roshdestvensky (conductor), J. Bogatirenko (production), choir and orchestra Radio Moscow.
    Actors: G. Avramov (General), A. Ewdokinova (Polina), W. Babjatinsky (Alexej), S. Fadejewa (Babulenka), N. Afanasiev (Marquis), A. Larionov (Mr. Astley), L. Judina ( Blanche), A. Grusinski (Prince Nilski), N. Swetlowidow (Potapytsch).
    Opera film; Singer of the recording from 1963; Russian version.
    Capriccio 93510 (1 DVD).
  • 1982 - Alexander Lazarev (conductor), orchestra and choir of the Bolshoi Theater Moscow.
    Alexander Ognitzew (General), Makwala Karashvili (Polina), Alexei Maslennikow (Alexej), Larissa Avdejewa (Babulenka), Alexei Korolev (Marquis), Lev Vernigora (Mr. Astley), Galina Borissowa (Blanche), Vitali Vlasow (Prince Nilski) , Juri Koroljew (Baron Wurmerhelm), Vitali Nartow (Potapytsch).
    Studio shot; Russian version.
    Melodia CIO 20165 (3 LPs), Melodia MCD 162 (2 CDs), Opera d'Oro 1368 (2 CDs).
  • May 19, 1983 - Christian Badea (Conductor), Orchestra and Choir of the English National Opera London.
    John Tomlinson (General), Sally Burgess (Polina), Graham Clark (Alexej), Ann Howard (Babulenka), Stuart Kale (Marquis), Malcolm Rivers (Mr. Astley), Jean Rigby (Blanche), Edward Byles (Fürst Nilski) , Dennis Dowling (Baron Wurmerhelm), Eric Shilling (Potapytsch).
    Live from London; English version.
    Open reel tape mr. tape 8301.
  • March 1996 - Valery Gergiev (conductor), orchestra and choir of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.
    Sergei Alexaschkin (General), Ljuba Kazarnowskaja (Polina), Wladimir Galusin (Alexej), Jelena Obraszowa (Babulenka), Nikolai Gassiev (Marquis), Valery Lebed (Mr. Astley), Marianna Tarasowa (Blanche), Viktor Vichrow (Prince Nilski) , Andrei Chramzow (Baron Wurmerhelm), Yuri Laptev (Potapytsch).
    Studio shot; Russian version.
    Philips 454 559-2 (2 CDs).
  • March 31, 2001 - Valery Gergiev (conductor), Temur Chkheidze (staging), orchestra and choir of the Metropolitan Opera .
    Sergej Alexashkin (General), Olga Guriakova (Polina), Wladimir Galusin (Alexej), Jelena Obraszowa (Babulenka), Nikolai Gassiew (Marquis), John Fanning (Mr. Astley), Olga Savova (Blanche), Richard Fracker (Fürst Nilski) , Alexander Anisimov (Baron Wurmerhelm), Yuri Laptev (Potapytsch).
    Live from New York; Russian version.
  • March 2008 - Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Staatskapelle Berlin , Dmitri Tcherniakov (staging), choir of the Berlin State Opera.
    Vladimir Ognovienko (General), Kristīne Opolais (Polina), Misha Didyk (Alexej), Stefania Toczyska (Babulenka), Stephan Rügamer (Marquis), Viktor Rud (Mr. Astley), Silvia de la Muela (Blanche), Gianluca Pasolini (Fürst Nilski), Alessandro Paliaga (Baron Wurmerhelm), Plamen Kumpikov (Potapytsch).
    Video; live from the State Opera Unter den Linden Berlin.
    Encore DVD 3400.
  • December 2012 - Valery Gergiev (conductor), orchestra and choir of the Mariinsky Theater St. Petersburg.
    Sergei Aleksashkin (General), Tatiana Pavlovskaya (Polina), Wladimir Galusin (Alexej), Larisa Dyadkova (Babulenka), Nikolai Gassiev (Marquis), Alexander Gergalov (Mr. Astley), Nadezhda Serdyuk (Blanche), Andrei Popow (Prince Nilski) , Oleg Sychev (Baron Wurmerhelm), Andrei Spekhov (Potapytsch).
    Video; live from the Mariinsky Theater St. Petersburg.

Web links

Commons : The Gambler  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f The player. In: Harenberg opera guide. 4th edition. Meyers Lexikonverlag, 2003, ISBN 3-411-76107-5 , pp. 672-673.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l Gabriele Beinhorn: Le Joueur. In: Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater . Volume 5: Works. Piccinni - Spontini. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1994, ISBN 3-492-02415-7 , pp. 74-77.
  3. a b c d e f g h The player. In: Sigrid Neef : Handbook of Russian and Soviet Opera. Henschelverlag Art and Society, Bärenreiter 1989. ISBN 3-7618-0925-5 , pp. 342–346.
  4. ^ Sergei Prokofiev : On the "player". Evening edition of the Börsenzeitung on May 12, 1916.
  5. a b c Richard TaruskinGambler, The [Igrok; Le joueur]. In: Grove Music Online (English; subscription required).
  6. Data from April 29, 1929 in the performance database of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie , accessed on July 20, 2019.
  7. a b Michael Stegemann: The player. In: Attila Csampai , Dietmar Holland : Opera guide. E-book. Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau 2015, ISBN 978-3-7930-6025-3 , print edition pp. 1228–1231.
  8. ^ Biography of Gennady Roshdestvensky on the Bolshoi Theater website, accessed on November 13, 2019.
  9. Natalia Savkina: World première of the "Gambler" at the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of Russia Review on, June 21, 2001, accessed on November 13, 2019.
  10. ^ The Gambler (Mariinsky Theater, opera) on, accessed July 23, 2019.
  11. Karsten Steiger: Opera discography. Directory of all audio and video recordings. 2nd, fully updated and expanded task. KG Sauer, Munich 2008/2011, ISBN 978-3-598-11784-8 , p. 346.
  12. a b c d e Sergej Sergejewitsch Prokofjew. In: Andreas Ommer: Directory of all complete opera recordings (= . Volume 20). Directmedia, Berlin 2005.
  13. ^ Discography on The Gambler at Operadis
  14. Information on the video recording from 2012 on, accessed on July 20, 2019.