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A Guide to War and Peace

20 July 2018

Our Autumn season opens with another epic opera set in Russia – Prokofiev’s War and Peace. There have been many adaptations of the Tolstoy novel over the years, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s our brief guide.

Beginning during a period of peace, we see Andrei observe Natasha for the first time as she gazes from her window. A few months later they meet at a grand New Year’s ball and Andrei is encouraged to ask her to dance, leading to their engagement two years down the line. However, Andrei’s father does not approve of the relationship so sends Andrei away hoping he will forget all about Natasha. Prince Anatol is also attracted to Natasha and confides in Hélène, asking her to make an introduction.

Count Rostov and Natasha visit Prince Nikolai's home (Andrei’s father). Andrei has, at this point, been abroad for a year. Princess Marya indicates that her father will not see them, and Count Rostov leaves. However, the Prince appears, and Natasha realises that he does not approve of the marriage.

Hélène tells Natasha that Anatole is attracted to her, and, after some hesitation, Natasha hears his declaration of love and agrees to meet him. Dolokhov makes arrangements for his friend Anatole's elopement with Natasha.

Pierre arrives, reveals that Anatole is already married, and agrees to ask Andrei to forgive Natasha. He admits that he himself would want to marry her if he were free.

Pierre reproaches Anatole and demands that he leave Moscow immediately. He agrees, and Pierre is left alone to lament his own circumstances. Denisov arrives with the news that Napoleon and his army are crossing into Russia. War is inevitable.

Part two of the opera, and our characters have become caught up in the war. It’s 1812 and the Russian forces are facing Napoleon’s troops in the Battle of Borodino. Andrei has enlisted as a means of escape from his feelings and to distance himself from Natasha. He is offered a desk job but instead opts to serve on the front line. Pierre, wanting to observe the scene, arrives, and he and Andrei embrace, perhaps for the last time.

Kutuzov decides that only by retreating, and potentially sacrificing Moscow, will there be any hope of victory. Pierre is caught up among some Muscovites who are accused by the French of fire-raising.

The wounded Prince Andrei, delirious, has been evacuated with the Rostovs from Moscow. Natasha, who had been unaware that he was among her fellow evacuees, visits him. She tries to apologise for her conduct, but he again declares his love for her. Tragically, he dies in his sleep.

The retreating French are escorting a group of prisoners through a snow-storm. Karataev cannot keep up and is killed, but Pierre and the others are rescued by the partisans. Denisov tells Pierre that Andrei is dead but that Natasha is alive and well. Kutuzov and his men rejoice in their victory, and celebrate the indomitable will of the Russian people.

This new production will be performed on a re-imagined version of the set used for the 2016 production of In Parenthesis. It will be transformed into multiple locations including, with the help of projections, an opulent ballroom and the field of battle.

The epic opera features a large cast, including Lauren Michelle (last seen at WNO in The Merchant of Venice) as Natasha and Jonathan McGovern (making his Company debut) as Andrei. Given the number of characters featured, many of the singers will perform multiple roles and the Chorus will be equal in size to that in last year’s Khovanshchina with extra singers drafted in to join our regular ensemble.

There are limited performances of War and Peace in Cardiff and on tour, and sales are incredibly strong. If you want to witness this ambitious work, don’t leave it too late to book.