Welsh National Opera will bring War and Peace to London’s Royal Opera House on 23 and 24 July 2019 as part of the companies’ continued partnership.
Based on Tolstoy’s epic novel, Prokofiev’s opera combines public turbulence in a time of war with intimate scenes of romance and temptation. The destinies of the spirited young Natasha and of her fiancé Prince Andrei are intertwined with that of the idealistic aristocrat Pierre, who seeks to understand his own identity amid the brutal events of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion. Meanwhile on the battlefield General Kutuzov, later joined by Prince Andrei, determines to prevent Napoleon conquering Russia.
Prokofiev wrote War and Peace in a relatively short two-year period in the 1940s, spurred on by the devastating impact of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in which he saw parallels with the unrest and war depicted in Tolstoy’s novel. Inspired by the collective determination of the Russian people, Prokofiev’s sweeping score revels in the epic nature of Tolstoy’s masterpiece. The opera has a substantial cast and chorus, and staging it is an ambitious project.
Welsh National Opera’s new version of War and Peace is influenced by musicologist Rita McAllister’s research in reconstructing Prokofiev’s original intentions for the piece, while still including some of the finest later additions, such as the Act I waltz. This large-scale production is directed by WNO Artistic Director David Pountney and conducted by WNO Music Director Tomáš Hanus.
David Pountney’s new production of War and Peace was critically acclaimed when it opened in Cardiff in September 2018, and hailed by the Guardian for its ‘ferocity and passion’. The production is sung in English, with surtitles.
The role of Natasha is performed by Lauren Michelle, who made her WNO debut as Jessica in the company’s 2016 production of The Merchant of Venice, also shown at the Royal Opera House in 2017. Prince Andrei is performed by baritone Jonathan McGovern, who made his WNO debut in this role in Cardiff earlier this season. Pierre is sung by Mark Le Brocq, who has recently sung in the company’s productions of From the House of the Dead, The Merchant of Venice, Lulu and A Christmas Carol.
David Pountney assembled a formidable design team for the production. Set designer Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth were both collaborators on the company’s successful 2016 production of the world premiere of Iain Bell’s In Parenthesis, which was also performed at the Royal Opera House. The costume designer is David Pountney’s long-time creative partner Marie-Jeanne Lecca and video projections are by David Haneke.
The production makes inventive use of the set from In Parenthesis, with designs that draw parallels between 1940s wartime Russia and the contrasting aristocratic grandeur and mass deprivation of Russian society in the early 1800s.
David Pountney says: ‘War and Peace is one of the most famously demanding of operatic scores, deploying massed choruses and a huge gallery of small roles to give authenticity to the great national drama of war and survival that it depicts. It is a superb showcase for WNO’s justly famous Chorus and for a company which prides itself on collective excellence. War and Peace joins with all the great war epics in being able to shift in a moment from public to private drama, from intensity of personal emotion to the surge of national determination, and this is ideal territory for the language of opera: to thrill us and move us on the grandest and most intimate scale.’
War and Peace opens at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday 23 July 2019 at 6.30pm with a subsequent performance on Wednesday 24 July at 6.30pm