It's surprising how frequently dramatists and librettists employ gambling, betting, fortune-telling, dice-throwing, card-playing and roulette-spinning in the initiation or development of plots.
The tension created in a bet and the universal curiosity to see the outcome, is easily transferred from the casino to the theatre. The suspense necessary for an audience to sit till the end of a performance is already there in a wager made in a bar, betting shop, gambling den or on the side-walk.
Every bet is a drama in miniature with its conflict of participants and its profit and loss at the result. And so there are many stage works which are simply dramatised wagers.
The musical theatre, be it at La Scala or on Broadway, has often manifested these uses of the games of chance. And it has another, and very practical reason for doing so, over and above the provision of dramatic tension.
Gambling at cards, dice or roulette and wagers on the fidelity of women or the fate of souls, requires at least two people and more often than not whole crowds of participants. What better excuse for an elaborate ensemble than a hand of cards, a turn of the roulette wheel or a crap game?
Most of the examples of great gambling scenes in opera are also great examples of operatic ensemble – voices in contention and in accord – and all leading toward the climax of the wager, win or lose.