David Pountney’s new production will be as ambitious and epic in scale as the novel itself, featuring a unique version of the score.
Based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel, the narrative of War and Peace follows the tribulations of Russian society as Napoleon edges closer to the country’s borders.
The spirited Natasha and her betrothed Andrei find their young love is challenged by temptation, while Pierre, an idealistic nobleman, wants to change Russian life for the better. As their fates intertwine during the 1812 invasion they find their stories unfold during a time when Russian lives would change forever.
David Pountney’s new production will be as ambitious and epic in scale as the novel itself. The huge set, video projections and stunning costumes portray the grandeur of Russian society in the 1800s. WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus will conduct a unique performing version of the score, based on Katya Ermolaeva and Rita McAllister’s new critical edition of Prokofiev’s original, complete with opulent dances and arias, and stirring melodies.
Honorary Patron, His Excellency The Russian Ambassador
Derek Hill Foundation
Cast & Creative
The background to the whole story is the continuing struggle across Europe against Napoleon, which Russia entered in 1805. With the invasion of Russia by 500,000 French troops in 1812, war comes firmly into the foreground.
Prokofiev’s opera was composed in the 1940s with the horrifying slaughter resulting from the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia starkly influencing the course of its composition.
Epigraph: The Russian people prepare to defend themselves.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky pays a visit to Count Rostov’s estate and meets his daughter, Natasha.
At a ball in St Petersburg, Andrei and Natasha’s relationship deepens. Natasha and her father are coldy received by the famously curmudgeonly Prince Bolkonsky, Andrei’s father, who opposes her match with his son. Andrei is sent abroad.
Pierre Bezukhov has inherited his father’s title and vast fortune, but struggles to find his true moral identity and understand his responsibilities. By contrast, Hélène, his wife, leads a dissolute life in the prevailing French style, and together with her rakish brother, Anatole, enjoys seducing others into her loose ways. Natasha, discomfited by her rejection by the austere Bolkonsky family, and egged on by Hélène falls victim to Anatole’s advances, and rashly agrees to elope with him.
Anatole prepares for the elopement. It is clear that Natasha is no more than an egotistical conquest for him. The elopement is forestalled at the last moment, but Natasha is disgraced. Pierre comforts and advises her, though he is disturbed to realise that he also has strong feelings for her.
Pierre confronts Anatole and accuses him of being a cad and a seducer. He forces Anatole to agree to go abroad to avoid a scandal engulfing Natasha. Suddenly the news arrives that Napoleon has crossed the Russian border. It is War.
Volunteers and partisans prepare to defend Moscow. Andrei, now a serving officer, reflects on his loss of Natasha. Pierre meanwhile sees the war as the moment finally to find his true self. The two men meet among the general chaos and panic of impending conflict.
The Russian general, Kutuzov, reviews his troops. He asks Andrei to join him on the staff, but Andrei prefers to fight with his soldiers. A cannon shot announces that the battle for Moscow has begun.
On his redoubt, Napoleon observes the progress of the battle. But it does not proceed as it once used to. He is perplexed and indecisive, and it is clear the battle will yield no clear victory for either side.
In the aftermath of the battle, Kutuzov and his generals review their options, and Kutuzov reluctantly concludes that he must abandon Moscow, and thereby lure the enemy into the trap of the Russian winter and vulnerable supply lines.
Under daily assaults from the partisans, the discipline of the French army begins to crumble, and the citizens of Moscow prefer to burn their city rather than allow it to give protection and nourishment to the enemy.
Pierre harbours a secret and somewhat absurd plan of assassinating Napoleon. He learns that Prince Andrei has been wounded and is being cared for by Natasha in the country. Pierre is arrested by the French and accused of arson. He is ordered to be executed, but instead becomes a prisoner.
Witnessing terrible hunger and violence in close proximity to the simple Russians who surround him, he starts to understand his own identity and purpose. Moscow burns.
Andrei is delirious and dying. Natasha nurses him. In death they find understanding and reconciliation.
The French retreat through the snow, harassed by partisans on all sides. Pierre is dragged along as a prisoner of war. His friend dies at his side, but the partisans rescue him in the nick of time.
The French have gone and for the Russians the ordeal is over. Pierre has survived, and wonders if Natasha will, after all, form part of his future. General Kutuzov, as always modest and self-deprecating, ends it all with a smile and a joke.