Prokofiev, Sergei


Prokofiev, Sergei

Summer Night Op. 123, Suite from the Opera ‘Betrothal in a Monastery’

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Sergei Prokofiev – Summer Night, Op. 123

(b. Sontsovka, 27 April 1891 – d. Moskow, 5 March 1953)

Suite from the Opera Betrothal in a Monastery

Prokofiev regularly reused material from his operas and ballets in works suitable for the concert hall. In two cases this resulted in symphonies: the third symphony is based on the opera The Fiery Angel, and the fourth symphony on the ballet The Prodigal Son. However, he more usually made orchestral suites, and that is the origin of the Summer Night Suite, which derives from the opera Betrothal in a Monastery.

This opera is based on The Duenna, an opera libretto written by the English playwright Richard Sheridan (1751-1816). In 1775 Sheridan eloped with Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas Linley, and subsequently married her. He was soon reconciled with his father-in-law. In the same year Sheridan’s literary career began with The Rivals, which became a great success. He then embarked on writing The Duenna, with music to be supplied by Linley, who involved his son Tom in the process. A duenna is a Spanish governess or chaperone figure. The story of the opera, set in Seville, is a convoluted one. Louisa is in love with Antonio, but her father, Don Jerome, opposes the match because Antonio is poor. He wants Louisa to marry Isaac, who is a rich fish merchant. Louisa and her duenna exchange identities so that Louisa can elope while Isaac is married off to the duenna. Another plot strand concerns Louisa’s brother Ferdinand and his love for Clara, who has run away from home and wants to hide in the monastery. Along the way there are disguises, tricks, drunken monks and a general air of festive disorder. There are numerous complications, but all ends happily with three marriages. There is no social comment or criticism, implied or otherwise.

In its original form, The Duenna was a ballad opera, that is, it had a contemporary setting, spoken dialogue and short songs often based on existing tunes, in contrast with opera seria, which dramatized classical myths and legends and had recitatives and long arias. Prokofiev took over the plot of The Duenna but not the music. He devised the libretto in collaboration with Mira Mendelsohn, for whom he had left his wife and married in 1948. They titled it Betrothal in a Monastery, with The Duenna as a subtitle. The music is a modern equivalent of the Italian opera buffa, best known from Mozart’s da Ponte operas. …


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