Skip to page content

Composed: 1919

Length: c. 15 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, gong, orchestra bells, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambourine, triangle, xylophone), 2 harps, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 26, 1931, Artur Rodzinski conducting

It was with great optimism that Sergei Prokofiev left Russia in May 1918 on his first tour of the United States. The civil war situation in Russia following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution had divided the country into several fronts: an environment that was not, in Prokofiev's professional opinion, particularly conducive to the performance or reception of new music. In spite of the civil war, his optimism stemmed from the success of his career previously established there with both audiences and critics; he had much to look forward to. In addition, his ballet The Tale of the Buffoon (1915) was promised a performance in Paris by Diaghilev, and he had recently completed the opera The Gambler (1915-1917).

So he set out on his journey in search of money and universal fame. In all, it took him nearly four months to travel from Vladisvostok to New York. It was while crossing the Pacific from Japan to San Francisco that the composer wrote the libretto to his opera The Love for Three Oranges.

Prokofiev's modernist credentials had reached New York before he had. As an emissary from "godless Russia," he was more or less in the position of having to astonish his American audiences and critics by his pianism and, as a composer, to meet the attendant comparisons between himself and his fellow modernist, Stravinsky. Expectations were high, and he delivered. His first solo recital at Aeolian Hall in November was enthusiastically received and led to requests for recordings from him by the Steinway Duo-Art player piano manufacturers; he also was commissioned for piano music by a New York publishing house, for which he composed The Tales of an Old Grandmother, Op. 31, and Four Pieces, Op. 32. In December, he was in Chicago, where conductor Frederick Stock gave two concerts of his music. Following the success of these concerts he was approached by the directors of the Chicago Opera Company with the offer to produce one of his operas. It was decided that he would compose The Love for Three Oranges. The contract was signed in January 1919.

The libretto is based on the 18th-century commedia dell'arte theater piece L'amore delle tre melarance by Carlo Gozzi. The story is of a young, melancholy Prince who, upon laughing at the unfortunate antics of the old witch Fata Morgana, is cursed by her to voyage to distant lands in search of three rather large oranges, each of which contains a beautiful Princess. The first two Princesses die instantly on their emergence from the oranges; only the third and most beautiful, Princess Ninetta, survives her exposure to the elements. The Prince and Ninetta fall in love and marry, and Fata Morgana flies to the nether regions.

On December 30, 1921, the opera received its premiere in Chicago. Prokofiev arranged six movements into the Suite, Op. 33bis, in 1924.

- Steve Lacoste is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Archivist.

02/07