War and Peace

Opera in two acts
Performed in Russian
(the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)

Credits

Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto by Sergei Prokofiev and Mira Mendelson-Prokofieva after the novel of the same name by Lev Tolstoi

Stage Director: Kristina Larina
Set Designer: Pyotr Okunev
Video Designer: Vadim Dulenko
Lighting Designer: Yegor Kartashov
Costumes by Tatiana Noginova (from the production of Andrei Konchalovsky, 2000)
Choreography by Maxim Petrov
Choreography Adaptation: Maxim Bystrov
Musical Coach: Irina Soboleva
Musical Preparation: Alexey Tikhomirov
Principal Chorus Master: Larisa Shveikovskaya

SYNOPSIS

Act I
A gloomy peasant hut in the village of Mytishchi
The heavily wounded Prince Andrei is lying in a peasant hut at Mytishchi. His anxious thoughts about the destiny of his homeland and Moscow, about Natasha are affected by delirium.

The garden and mansion at the Rostov estate. The spring of 1809
Otradnoye, the estate of Count Rostov, the district Marshal of the Nobility. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who has come to Count Rostov in connection with the running of the estate, recalls an old oak tree which he recently saw in the forest. With its dried, broken branches and its scarred bark, the old oak stood out amidst the youthful forest verdure and seemed to be speaking out through its appearance “Spring, love, happiness. Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless, constantly repeated fraud! There is no spring, no sun, no happiness.”
Natasha Rostova, thrilled by the beauty of the spring night, is unable to sleep. Prince Andrei recognises the voice of the young girl who attracted his attention in the course of the day. “There is something very, very special in this young girl who wants to fly away,” he says, seized by an “unreasoning springtime feeling of joy and renewal.”

Moscow. The ball at an old grandee of Catherine’s the Great’s time
On New Year’s Eve, Count Rostov brings Natasha and his daughter-in-law Sonya to the ball. Guests are arriving. Among them are Count Pierre Bezukhov and his wife, the lovely Countess Hélène and her brother, Anatole Kuragin.
The polonaise is followed by a mazurka, then a waltz. Terribly anxious, Natasha, who has never before been to a grand ball, thinks that nobody notices her and that she will not dance at all. Count Pierre Bezukhov, guessing at the young girl’s feelings, approaches Prince Andrei and suggests that he invite Natasha for a waltz. Andrei admires the shy grace of this “very special” girl; he is increasingly enchanted by Natasha’s youthful enthusiasm. “He asked her to waltz… ‘I have long been waiting for you,’ the frightened but happy girl seems to say by the smile that has conquered the threat of tears, as she raises her hand to Prince Andrei’s shoulder.” After the dance with Natasha, Prince Andrei, quite to his own surprise, tries to guess his fortune “If she goes to her cousin first and then to another lady, she will be my wife.” Natasha goes first to her cousin.

The drawing room in the mansion of old Prince Bolkonsky
Count Rostov and Natasha, now already engaged to Prince Andrei, have come for their first visit to old Prince Bolkonsky. Natasha believes that the prince, on knowing her closer, will no longer disapprove of his son’s intention to marry and will love her. But Prince Bolkonsky refuses to receive the Rostovs. They are received by his daughter Princess Marya. Natasha is indignant to the point of tears by the princess’s coldness and by the insulting behaviour of the old prince who suddenly appears. She does not wish to stay any longer in this inhospitable house. Natasha feels the pangs of love, stronger than ever before, for Prince Andrei who has been obliged by his father to spend a year abroad.

The divan-room of Hélène Bezukhova
A ball in the house of Hélène Bezukhova. Count Rostov, invited to this soirée with Natasha and Sonya, is “displeased to see that the company consists almost entirely of men and women known for their loose conduct.” Hélène knows that Natasha is betrothed to Prince Andrei,” one of the most energetic, well-educated and clever young men”, yet she readily helps her dissolute brother Anatole Kuragin to make advances on the pretty young girl, whom he noticed before at the New Year ball. The idea to bring together her brother and Natasha amuses the countess. When Anatole and Natasha are left alone, Anatole expresses his love to her and passes her a letter in which he suggests that they elope. Natasha is in disarray. She cannot resist the flood of emotions that is overpowering her. “How dear, how terribly dear this man suddenly became to me.” Sonya tries to bring her back to reason and to warn her.

Dolokhov’s room
Anatole Kuragin has instigated Dolokhov to arrange a secret wedding of him and Natasha Rostova. However, having made all the preparations and having also found money and a coachman, Dolokhov attempts to dissuade Kuragin from his wild plan, but the latter is unbending and readies himself to set out for Natasha.

The mansion of Marya Dmitriyevna Akhrosimova
In the ante-chamber of Marya Akhrosimova’s mansion, where the Rostov family is staying, the distracted Natasha is impatiently waiting for Anatole. She has made up her mind to flee with him, breaking off her engagement with Prince Andrei without informing her parents. But Akhrosimova learns about the intended elopement from Sonya and when Anatole calls for Natasha, he finds his way barred by the butler. Kuragin makes his escape. Marya Dmitriyevna is indignant at Natasha’s conduct and rebukes the girl but, afraid of publicity, she begs Pierre Bezukhov, who has come for a visit, to take measures “as otherwise there will be a scandal and a duel.” Pierre, who has recently begun to think about the girl who is engaged to his friend with an excitement that terrifies him, fails to understand how Natasha could make such a decision. On seeing her suffering, however, at the news that Anatole is married and at her sense of guilt committed in respect of Prince Andrei, Pierre, in a gush of compassion, tenderness and love, suddenly confesses that he loves Natasha himself.

Pierre Bezukhov’s room
Hélène and her foreign guests are amused at her brother’s adventure. Pierre finds his home despicable, his riches useless and the people around him worthless. Only the thought of Natasha brings him any sense of joy. But news arrives: Napoléon has advanced his troops to the Russian frontier.

Act II
On the eve of the Battle of Borodino
Getting ready for the battle of Borodino, militiamen are building a redoubt. The troops are being brought in. Lieutenant-Colonel Denisov, looking for Field-Marshal Kutuzov, meets Prince Andrei and tells him about his plan of a partisan campaign at the enemy’s rear. Prince Andrei, on meeting Denisov, who had once proposed to the fifteen-year-old Natasha Rostova, is carried back by both sweet and sad memories. Pierre Bezukhov arrives on the battlefield to see the battle for himself. He distracts Prince Andrei from his gloomy thoughts about Natasha’s breach of their engagement and the death of his father. “The burning of Smolensk and its abandonment formed an epoch in Prince Andrei’s life. A novel feeling of anger against the enemy have made him forget his own sorrow. He was entirely devoted to the affairs of his regiment and was considerate and kind to his men and officers.” In the regiment they called him “our prince”, they were proud of him and they loved him. Field-Marshal Kutuzov appears, warmly welcomed by all. “A wonderful, a matchless people,” he says. “The beast will be mortally wounded by all of Russia’s might, it will be driven out of our sacred land.”

The Shevardino Redoubt during the Battle of Borodino
Napoleon, encircled by his marshals is watching the course of the battle from the Shevardino Redoubt. In his dreams he already imagines Moscow captured, a deputation with the keys of the great city. But instead of glad tidings about their victory, news about killed and wounded generals arrives from all sides; messengers of the French commanders come to Napoleon one after another to ask for reinforcements. Napoleon has a presentiment of impending catastrophe.

A Council of War in Fili
Kutuzov issues the order to retreat to protect the army and Russia’s well-being “The enemy will not be in Moscow for long. This will be their last victory.”

A street in Moscow, occupied by the French
Moscow is deserted, abandoned by its residents. The deputation with the keys of the city awaited by Napoleon has not arrived. Pierre has remained in Moscow “to meet Napoleon and kill him, either to perish or put an end to the misery of all Europe.” Pierre learns from the Rostov family’s chatelaine that the Rostovs have left Moscow. At Natasha’s insistence, the wounded soldiers staying in their mansion have been taken with them. It is concealed from her, however, that Prince Andrei is among them. Moscow burns. A group of prisoners accused of starting fires are led in by French soldiers. Among them are Pierre Bezukhov and Platon Karatayev, a wounded soldier taken by the French from a hospital. Fulfilling Marshal Davoût’s order, the French soldiers execute several Russians by firing squad. The fire becomes increasingly intense.

A gloomy peasant hut in the village of Mytishchi
The heavily wounded Prince Andrei is lying in a peasant hut at Mytishchi. His anxious thoughts about the destiny of his homeland and Moscow, about Natasha are affected by delirium. When Andrei sees Natasha entering the hut, he takes her for one of his visions. But on being convinced that before him is the “real, living and breathing” Natasha, Prince Andrei confesses his love to her. Natasha, both happy and suffering, begs him for forgiveness. But Prince Andrei’s strength leaves him. Again he begins to rave, and Natasha feels with horror the life of her beloved passing away with the end of his delirium.

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

The idea of composing an opera based on Lev Tolstoy’s epic novel was cherished by Sergei Prokofiev for years. The composer realized that his task was vast and complex and that everything expressible in music and scenic terms should be drawn from the multivolume web of lives of over five hundred characters. The beginning of the Great Patriotic War speeded his work. According to Sergei Prokofiev, on those hard days the patriotic pages of Tolstoy’s novel became especially close to him. By the spring of 1943 the composer finished the first version of his score in 11 scenes. In 1946 he completed the second version, adding the Ball at an old grandee of Catherine’s the Great’s time and Council of War in Fili scenes and the choral Epigraph. Either version was intended to be performed within two days, and the Peace and War Acts were performed separately. Resuming his work from time to time until his death in 1953, Sergei Prokofiev carried on preparing his one-day version with optional omissions of some scenes and episodes.

Sergei Prokofiev elected to put aside Tolstoy’s long philosophic discourses and some of his important plotlines but used his original text with additional fragments from poems by Vasily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Lomonosov, Konstantin Batyushkov, and Denis Davydov. In War and Peace there are three figurative spheres that are unequal in proportion and significance. The genre art sphere encompasses Act I including the ball music and the duet of Sonya and Natasha, the national epic one is expressed in Act II choruses, the psychologic lyric sphere threads the opera to be a dramatic pivot of the composition. The latter is represented by the three main characters appearing in the both Acts of the opera. Natasha Rostova is a central female figure, while Andrei Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov are shown through their attitude towards her or their responses to her unpredictable actions. Natasha has an ambiguous image that is interpreted in development and composed of the features of such Prokofiev’s heroines as Juliet, Cinderella and Renata.

The opera music is filled with elements of dance and rhythmic movement in a broader sense. The many-faced waltz – Hélène waltzes with negligent languish, Anatole does with provocative eroticism, Natasha and Andrei are awhirl to the strains of their waltz in a romantically refined manner – is of no little significance among the dance themes. Notwithstanding the plot-conditioned marks of the 19th century, Prokofiev’s score style is undoubtedly attributed to the 20th century and determined by the contemporary melodics and harmony, especially by “the steel step” in the rhythmically composed battle scenes. The opera dramaturgy is based on a filmmaking principle of dynamic contrast montage, which was taken by the composer when he was collaborating with Sergei Eisenstein. Sergei Prokofiev provides each of kaleidoscopic characters with a tonally specific “mask” so that the audience can remember even minor characters.

The Mariinsky Theatre is an undisputed leader by a number of turning to War and Peace. The first staging of Prokofiev’s last score at the Mariinsky Theatre called for a lot of money and performers – only the cast included over 70 characters – and the opening took place in 1977 with Yuri Temirkanov as a Conductor and Boris Pokrovsky and Nikita Nikiforov as Stage Directors. In January 1978 Valery Gergiev as a Conductor made his debut in the performance.

In 1991 maestro Valery Gergiev became a Musical Director for the new staging that was a landmark in the scenic sight of the opera. It was the first uncut performance staged by Graham Vick. In 2000 the co-production with the Metropolitan Opera was staged by Andrei Konchalovsky on a grand Hollywood scale. In 2014 Graham Vick’s newly adapted version was first performed at the New Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre – all the scenes were shifted to Russia at the turn of the 21st century. Later the performance staged by Andrei Konchalovsky was also transferred to the New Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. In 2016 Kristina Larina’s adaptation of War and Peace for the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre was performed.

The full opera performance at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre has been also staged by Kristina Larina. All costumes are carefully designed by Tatiana Noginova after 19th century pictures and all scenes are replaced by battle videos and projections of aristocratic interiors. The performance starts with old Prince Bolkonsky’s death when he sees his life flashing before his eyes. The opera performance represents a retrospective life review from Andrei’s encounter with Natasha to their last meeting so that the main psychologic lyric line stands out from the rest. On March 20, 2020 the first performance run under the baton of Pavel Smelkov, a Principal Conductor of the Primorsky Stage.

Nadezhda Koulygina

World premiere: 12 June 1946, Leningrad, Maly Opera Theatre
Premiere at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre: 20 March 2020, Vladivostok

Running time: 3 hours
The performance has one interval

Age category: 12+
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