War and Peace | Review

By Ilona Cabral


David Pountney’s new production of Mendelson and Prokofievs Operatic version of War and Peace is certainly interesting. Honestly, even in reflection I simply cannot decide which genre it appeared most like: an opera, a farce or a pantomime.

Certainly, the attempt to condense this tombe into a successful three-hour opera was a truly admirable challenge. A challenge that, I feel, the Welsh National Opera were not quite capable of fulfilling. Not because of lack of skills, but because of the pure confusion of the musical.

This opera, seemed to defy every traditional operatic convention. It was presented in English; filled with staccato, in addition to unhinging music and a language filled with contractions. The purpose of this informal language appeared to be an attempt to make the staccato lines flow more, but honestly made it seem even more disjointed.

That is not to say that certain elements of the performance were not enjoyable. The music, alone, would have been beautiful. The dancing, alone, would have been comical or captivating. The singing, alone, was accomplished and reflective of the WNO’s impeccable standards. However, altogether this performance appeared as a chaotic attempt to smash a fantastic story into an opera, which fell short in every catagory.

Yet, it has to be said this production was composed of a staggeringly large and accomplished cast. It contained true operatic gems, including 60 named roles as well as a huge chorus, making the auditorium ring out with triumphant vocals throughout. Nevertheless, this show still somehow fell short of my expectations, which was bitterly dissapointing.

It has to be said, the ‘Love’ aspect of the play was fulfilled, but it almost felt like some of the most crucial and moving elements of the novel were disregarded. Key events such as the Battle of Austerlitz were excluded altogether and instead the show focused mainly on the love-story between Natalya (Natasha) Rostova (Lauren Michelle), Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (Jonathon McGovern) and the bumbling Count Pyotr (Pierre) Bezukhov (Mark Le Brocq).

It must be admitted that the ‘design’ aspects of the show were more successful, with accomplished stagecraft and expression of location throughout. Following this, the costuming of the actors was skilful, clearly reflecting the simultaneous opulence and frugality of life in Russia, heavily dependant on class.

Maybe I should leave you with Tolstoy’s resounding words about his novel: “War and Peace is what the author wishes and was able to express in the form it was expressed”.

In this operatic form, I sadly do not think this show expressed the true story of War and Peace.