Three Oranges

In 1917, with his opera The Gambler in rehearsals for a St. Petersburg production, Prokofiev, already recognized as one of the leading modernist composers in his country, was looking for a new subject for his next operatic effort. The composer found his inspiration in a magazine published by theatrical producer Vsevolod Meyerhold in 1914-16, called The Love for Three Oranges, after the comedy by Carlo Gozzi.

  1. Peuchen remembered returning to his stateroom and stuffing three oranges in his pockets as the ship was being evacuated. He left cash, securities and jewelry worth more than $300,000—but he took three oranges. 1 In the cataclysmic last moments of Titanic’s voyage, Peuchen saw with great clarity the difference between essentials and nonessentials. He chose to carry with him the basics —just three oranges— knowing that they could provide life to him or to someone else while they were.
  2. First time my father overheard me listening to. This bit of music he asked me, 'what is it?' 'it's called Love For Three Oranges,' I informed him. 'boy,' he said, 'that's getting it.
  3. If you have three oranges and you take away two, how many will you have? The two you took.
  4. But he repeated his cry. Then his mother, to quiet him, threw him a piece of meat, which he ate like a madman; and while he was busy eating, she gave the three oranges to the prince, saying: “Take them, my son, and escape at once, for he will soon finish eating his meat, and then he will want to eat you, too.”.
Three oranges ash sarkar

Following his arrival in Chicago in 1918, Prokofiev attempted to interest the Chicago Opera Company in a production of The Gambler, whose staging was canceled owing to the Bolshevik Revolution. The director, Cleofonte Campanini, turned him down, but did offer to do the new opera he suggested, The Love for Three Oranges. Prokofiev, a fast worker, completed the work in October that year, and it was premiered on December 30, 1921, in Chicago. Productions in New York (1922), Cologne (1925), Berlin (1926), and Leningrad (1926) followed, each helping to advance the cause of the composer, but meeting with little actual success. Yet, by the 1940s the music in the opera became widely known, mainly because of the often-played Suite adapted from it and use of its March as the theme of a popular radio show in America called 'Your FBI in Peace and War.' Throughout most of the twentieth century, The Love for Three Oranges opera had achieved more performances than any other Prokofiev opera.

The Love for Three Oranges begins with a prologue in which the supporters of tragedy, comedy, eccentricity and other forms of drama watch the story, not only commenting on it, but affecting the outcome of certain events. The story they watch centers on the hypochondriac Prince, who is cursed by the witch, Fata Morgana, to fall madly in love with three oranges and obsessively pursue them.

There is much humor and joy in Prokofiev's score. Some see the opera as a clever, updated Offenbach-like creation, full of slapstick and silliness. It is hard to dispute this view, though Prokofiev's occasional acid and handling of the story line perhaps place the work in a somewhat different arena, where farce and fun mix menace and mayhem in a sometimes cruel way. Just as the duck gets swallowed alive by the wolf in Prokofiev's children's classic, Peter and the Wolf, characters here can die or disappear as if quite dispensable: two of the three princesses who emerge from the oranges die immediately of thirst, the third being saved by the Eccentrics who intervene to give her water. However one interprets the opera, it is generally agreed that it is masterpiece of the twentieth century stage.

Appears On

YearTitle / PerformerLabel / Catalog #AllMusic Rating
Dzhemal Dalgat / Symphony Orchestra of the All-Union Radio
MELCD 1001944
Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Opera / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra
Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Opera / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra
Sylvain Cambreling / Charles Workman

Prokofiev - L'amour des Trois Oranges - Sung in EnglishIntroduction: 00:00 - Act I: 02:50 - Act II: 33:15 - Act III: 58:35 - Act IV: 1:42:48The King of Club.

SERGEI PROKOFIEV’S OPERA The Love for Three Oranges had its first performance in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on December 30, 1921. The story traces back to a 17th-century Italian fairy tale; the opera’s world debut in the U.S. was overshadowed by momentous events in Prokofiev’s native Russia.

The Love for Three Oranges: The Glyndebourne Version, by Frank Corsaro, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984. Illustrations following from this book.

Love Of Three Oranges Opera

Years later, part of the opera’s score came to represent the FBI. Later still, it encouraged a famed childrens’ artist to turn his talents to opera set design. Curious paths indeed for a controversial work that wonderfully incorporates a 1920’s blend of Dada, Surrealism and generally whacko performance art.

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, 1891–1953, Russian composer, pianist and conductor.

In May 1918, with Soviet permission, Sergei Prokofiev traveled eastward on the last Trans-Siberian Express to leave Moscow for many years. His travel to Vladivostok continued on to Japan, Hawaii and San Francisco.

Cleofonte Campanini, director of the Chicago Opera Company, commissioned Prokofiev to compose a satirical opera. The libretto arose from a play in the Commedia dell’Arte style written by 18th-century Italian Carlo Gozzi. Gozzi, in turn, had based his play on a fairy tale collected by 17th-century Italian Giambattista Basile, whose other works included the earliest known versions of Cinderella and Rapunzel.


Several Maurice Sendak story boards for The Love for Three Oranges.

When Prokofiev was done, his L’Amour des Trois Oranges was part Commedia dell’Arte, part avant guard Dada and Surrealism. The opera’s French language made complete sense: Prokofiev spoke next to no English, and he recognized that few American opera-goers understood his native Russian.

Like many “modern” works at the time, the Chicago debut wasn’t particularly well-received. Review comments included “Russian jazz with Bolshevik trimmings” and “As far as I am able to discern, it pokes fun chiefly at those who paid money for it.”

In fact, The Love for Three Oranges wasn’t performed in the U.S. again until 1949. From then on, it gained popularity around the world, with plenty of performance-art nuances. For instance, as part of an English production in 1988, audience members were given scratch-and-sniff cards to match on-stage events, gunshots, the aroma of oranges and the like.

The plot is classic fairy tale: A Prince despondent from reading too much tragic poetry can be cured only by laughter. The king, his advisor Pantalone and magician Tchelio, both classic Commedia dell’Arte types, are on the Prince’s side. The king’s niece Clarice, who hopes to inherit the throne, and her lover, the oily Leandro, are aided by Fata Morgana, a witch, and servant girl Smeraldina, all hoping to do in the Prince.

Fata Morgana.

Three oranges exercise

The Prince rollicks with laughter when the evil Fata Morgana takes a tumble, revealing her bloomers. She, in turn, curses him with a love for three oranges. The Prince and court jester Truffaldino (another C della’A type) march off in search of these three.

Drop curtain for Act III, Scene 2. Does this March played by Konstantin Bogino remind you of the FBI?

During the intermission, let’s jump to The FBI in Peace and War, a CBS radio drama that ran from 1944 to 1958. Its theme was the March from The Love for Three Oranges, overlaid with a chanted L A V A, in honor of the program’s sponsor Lava soap.

The Prince and Truffaldino find the three oranges containing three princesses. There are complications a’plenty and the Prince falls in love with Ninette, Orange No. 3.

Second intermission feature: In 1982, Britain’s Glyndebourne Festival Opera commissioned Frank Corsaro and Maurice Sendak, famed for Where the Wild Things Are, to produce L’Amour des Trois Oranges in its original French. This led to the wonderful book, The Love for Three Oranges: The Glyndebourne Edition, whence many of this item’s illustrations come.

Fata Morgana transforms Ninette into a giant rat. And then…. Or maybe you’d like the CD?

Love for Three Oranges, premiere recording of Tom Stoppard’s English translation, Opera Australia, Richard Hickox, conductor, Chandos, 2005.

Three Oranges Ash Sarkar

Rest assured, it all ends happily, and this is why I love the three oranges. ds

Three Oranges Journal

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016