Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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An Everlasting Peace

December 29, 2007

On the hillside
Photo: Ken Howard/Met 2007
Friday brought my chance to see the Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. Given that I have not seen this opera, much less this production, before, I must admit that the whole experience was rather overwhelming. Championed by Valery Gergiev, this production was a first for the Met in 2002 having been seen only twice prior to that here in touring productions. In many ways this show represents what the Met does best and, up until recently, has been best known for – massive productions done on the grandest scale. It’s hard to imagine anything consuming more theatrical resources. Despite its rather minimal sets by George Tsypin, the staging involves a huge array of elements from it giant cast to live horses, cannons, and a goat. All of this sits atop a steep hill with a rotating top that fills the entire stage spilling out over the top of the orchestra. At over 4 hours it makes one long for those quaint Wagnerian intermissions. (There is a single one in Prokofiev’s work).

But this is one instance where size did not need to serve as a substitute for quality. The often beautiful and highly dramatic score was given great attention by the orchestra led here by Gianandrea Noseda who is subbing for Gergiev in the last two performances of this run. Noseda is no stranger to this material and it shows throughout. The rest of the cast was almost entirely Russian with current stars of the Marinsky Opera who were uniformly exceptional. Perhaps the biggest treat was the presence of some extra Marinsky stars who were filling in for their absent non-Russian counterparts in some apparent cosmic exchange program given Gergiev’s absence. Mikhail Kit, the renowned Russian bass, has greatly impressed me over the last two years as both Wotan and Boris Godunov, and here, he sang the roles of Count Rostov and Field Marshal Kutuzov. These parts have been largely handled in this run by Samuel Ramey and with my deep respect for him aside, Mr. Kit is a significant addition to the proceedings as was Alexei Steblianko who took over for Kim Begley as Count Bezukhov. Irina Mataeva is also exemplary in her performance of Natasha as is Vasili Ladyuk’s Prince Andrei.

This simple but highly affecting staging from Andrei Konchalovsky works well in that it prevents the opera’s biggest pitfall - with such a large cast, it's easy to have everyone just stand around while they’re singing. Instead, the hilltop presses the motion issue throughout, forcing the cast to move over or around it when it is not rotating of its own accord. Stillness here is intentional and often profound. Much has been made of the precariousness of this set up in the press, but I’ve seen steeper – take Alice in Wonderland this year for instance where everyone was fitted with rappelling gear. In any event, this is a great production you may not get a chance to see again soon. There is one more performance on January 3, although it appears to be sold out.



"Steep hill with a rotting top"?? Did you mean "rotating"?
how right you are. my crack editing team let this one slip through the cracks, though to be honest rotting may not be completely inappropriate either.
I suppose it's possible the Met allows their sets to get decrepit, but considering the amount of livestock on stage for this particular circus....!
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