War and Peace – a look back at the epic production

22 July 2019
Full chorus are dancing under a ceiling filled with gold and white chandeliers.

Welsh National Opera’s production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace, from our Autumn 2018 Season, is transferring to the Royal Opera House for two nights as part of our continued relationship with the London venue. We open on Tuesday 23 July, with a second performance on the Wednesday, as part of their summer season.

Using a new version of Prokofiev’s score, by Katya Ermolaeva and Rita McAllister, director David Pountney worked with regular collaborators Robert Innes Hopkins (who also designed our In Parenthesis set), costume designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca (who is currently working with David on our Verdi trilogy) and David Haneke (who worked on the video projections for The Fall of the House of Usher) on this five star production (Opera Now, The Stage, Bachtrack) that audiences loved too. 

At almost four hours in length and based on 1,200 plus pages of the Tolstoy novel, this really is an epic production and we are so happy to be able to take it to ROH complete with the original cast. The role list is also extensive: with 22 singers and seven dancers performing alongside an extended WNO Chorus, and the cast play up to six roles each. Unlike the lead roles of course, Natasha (Lauren Michelle), Andrei (Jonathan McGovern), and Pierre (Mark Le Brocq), who appear throughout.

…the excellent, multiple role-playing cast and chorus sing with rousing physicality. Yet their subtlety, too, is striking alongside the WNO Orchestra’s enthralling evocation of states from collective bombast to refined and sometimes acerbically witty, chamber-scored characterisation under conductor Tomáš Hanus.

Steph Power, Opera Now, October 2018

WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus is once again conducting the WNO Orchestra for these performances, which are sung in English with surtitles to enable you to easily follow what is going on. The opera is split in two, like the title of the book, with Peace being portrayed in the first half, followed by War after the interval. It is in the second half where the new critical edition manages to lose some of the enforced patriotism Prokofiev was under pressure to put in, returning it to something more like his original concept.

The production is based on the wooden semi-circular set from In Parenthesis (Summer 2016) brought to life by elaborately detailed, colourful costumes; with added conceptualisation from video projections, including apt moments from the 1966 film by Sergei Bondarchuk. War and Peace is visually suggestive of Russia in the 1800s alongside glimpses of the 1940s Stalinist era, reflecting the parallels of Prokofiev’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel. Initially conceived pre-war but compulsorily revised during the propaganda-rich and patriotic, post-Hitler-invasion Soviet Union with its echoes of the Napoleonic invasion of the novel. 

If you missed it on tour last year, our two London dates provide another opportunity to catch this rarely performed opera fully-staged.