Theatre in Wales

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Spectacular staging of spectacular times.

War and Peace

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , September-22-18
War and Peace by Welsh National Opera A truly wonderful staging of this rarely performed, demanding opera, based on the great work of Leo Tolstoy, is given a masterly production by David Pountney. We see Tolstoy sat at a desk in the middle of a large bare stage writing his famous work, as he writes his words appear on a large screen behind him. Soon the stage is filled with soldiers and Russian peasants. The acclaimed WNO chorus burst into song almost blowing the roof off the theatre! They are joined on the screen behind them by many more peasants and soldiers, the whole population of Moscow is there.

These projections, beautifully designed by the internationally renowned artist, David Haneke enhance the remarkable nature of the production. Some are still and abstract, some are moving pictures. We see Moscow burn down very realistically and dramatically.

The first act, Peace has at its core the love that develops between Prince Andrei Bolkonsky
and Natasha Rostova. A frontispiece masks the large stage for the more intimate and quieter moments of the action. There is a ’Juliet balcony’ moment as Bolkonsky, sung and acted with great warmth and sensitivity by Jonathon McGovern, sees Natasha at her window delighting, in song, at the beauty of the garden below her. American soprano, prizewinner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Lauren Michelle reaches out for that beauty with her pure and captivating voice. WNO Musical Director, Tomáš Hanus and the enlarged orchestra capture both the tenderness and the more dissonant phrases of Prokofiev’s soaring music.

Back on the full stage, with gently moving, huge beautiful chandeliers projected on the back screen, they tell us we are at a ball in St. Petersburg. We meet Pierre who will be taking a much more central role as the war travels its awful course in the second act. But here all is fun and laughter, well almost. Pierre is brilliantly sung and acted by strong tenor Mark Le Brocq. The music does not provide ‘tunes’ for the cast to sing to but they all master marrying their vocal contribution to the composer’s ferocity.

Their love relationship doesn’t go too smoothly, the competition is strong and not helped by the interfering Hélène and Princess Maya, two of the multiple roles well captured by Jurgita Adamonyté and Leah-Marian Jones.

Soon we are at war. War is deadly and spectacular with great marching armies and galloping horses on the back screen and moments of both joy and disaster before our eyes, it makes its deadly and spectacular progress.

For a while Napoleon has every one on the run. This is one of David Stout’s many perfectly served roles. With a cast of over fifty characters there is a good bit of doubling up all done seamlessly. Now things are going better. The chorus and orchestra again fill the spacious Donald Gordon auditorium triumphantly. But not for long. Pierre appears in a long line of captives, some of them are taken away and executed. In these closing moments LeBrocq gives us both great strength and tenderness as things move to sad close.

Not all is lost Pierre is rescued by Partisans and once again with bold voices the Russian people, led by their leader, Field Marshall Kutlzov, another strong and finely observed performance from Simon Bailey tell us of their victory and the stage fills with flags and the auditorium with huge applause.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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