War and Peace (Prokofiev)

War and Peace (Prokofiev)

"War and Peace" (Op. 91) ("Война и мир" in Russian, "Voyna i mir" in transliteration) is an opera in two parts (an Epigraph and thirteen scenes), sometimes arranged as five acts, by Sergei Prokofiev to a Russian libretto by the composer and Mira Mendelson, based on the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.


Mendelson and Prokofiev's original scheme for the libretto of the opera envisaged eleven scenes, and Prokofiev began composing the music in the summer of 1942, spurred on by the German invasion of the Soviet Union which began on June 22, 1941. The description "lyric-dramatic scenes" in the libretto accurately suggests both a homage to Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and an emphasis on individuals and their emotions rather than on the bigger picture of a country at war.

A piano score was completed by the summer of 1942 (two scenes having been changed from the original version), and it was submitted to the Soviet Union's Committee on the Arts. The Committee demanded that the Part 2 (War) scenes needed a more patriotic and heroic emphasis. Prokofiev, who had wanted to see his masterpiece staged as quickly as possible, added marches, choruses, and other materials to Part 2 to satisfy the committee. In addition, he composed the choral Epigraph, which emphasises the Russian people's defiance in the face of the enemy.

Performance history

Plans were drawn up for a 1943 première at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, to be directed by Sergei Eisenstein and conducted by Samuil Samosud. Nothing came of this project, although a private performance of eight scenes with piano accompaniment took place at the Moscow Actors’ Centre on October 16, 1944, and a public concert performance of nine scenes, conducted by Samosud, was given in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on June 7, 1945.

The first staged performance was of a newly extended seven-scene version of Part 1 (what is now Scene 2 having been added at Samosud’s suggestion), together with Scene 8, the first scene of Part 2. This took place on June 12, 1946, at then Maly Theatre (before the Revolution - Mikhailovsky Theatre) in Leningrad, again conducted by Samosud. Part 2, also with an additional scene (Scene 10), was to be performed there in July 1947, but after the dress rehearsal no public performances were given, “for reasons beyond the control of the theatre and the composer”.

Following the Zhdanov decree of February 1948, Prokofiev started work on a shortened single-evening version of the opera, at the same time making various revisions to his original scheme, although the thirteen-scene framework remained. This version was first performed on May 26, 1953 at the Teatro Comunale, Florence, conducted by Artur Rodziński, two months after the composer’s death. Scenes 2 and 9 were, however, omitted. The Russian première of this version was given at the Maly Theatre, Leningrad, on April 1, 1955, conducted by Eduard Grikurov, in this case with the omission of Scenes 7 and 11. All thirteen scenes (but with cuts) were eventually first performed together on November 8, 1957 at the Stanislavski-Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow, under the baton of Alexander Shaverdov. On December 15, 1959, the thirteen scenes and Epigraph were finally staged uncut (conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashayev) at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, although this was preceded in the United States by an NBC telecast conducted by Peter Herman Adler on January 13, 1957.

The first British performance was a Leeds Festival concert performance at Leeds Town Hall on April 19, 1967 (conductor Edward Downes). The first British staged performance was by Sadlers’ Wells Opera on October 11, 1972, and the first American staging by the Opera Company of Boston on May 8, 1974. In other countries, the thirteen-scene version of the opera was first performed in Germany (Bonn) and Bulgaria (Sofia} in 1957, Serbia (Belgrade) in 1958, Croatia (Zagreb) in 1961, the Czech Republic (Liberec) in 1962, France (Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, in concert) and Canada (Montreal) in 1967, Austria (Vienna State Opera, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich) in 1971, Australia (the opening performance at the Sydney Opera House) and Argentina (Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires) in 1973, Spain (Liceu, Barcelona) in 1977 and the Netherlands (Amsterdam, conducted by Edo de Waart) in 1991.

The Canadian Opera Company will perform the opera as part of its 2008-2009 season. [ [http://www.coc.ca/performances/war.html Canadian Opera Company's website] ]


Other roles

Over seventy characters are listed in the libretto, and many singers usually play multiple roles.

Other important characters are:
*Sonya, "Natasha's cousin" (mezzo-soprano)
*Maria Dmitrievna Akhrosimova (alto)
*Dolokhov (baritone)
*Colonel Vasska Denisov (bass)
*Platon Karataev (tenor)
*Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky, "Andrei's father" (bass-baritone)

Other named characters are:
*Madame Peronskaya (soprano)
*Tsar Alexander 1st (silent role)
*Princess Marya Bolkonskaya, "Andrei's sister" (mezzo-soprano)
*Balaga, "a coachman" (bass)
*Joseph, "a servant" (silent role)
*Matriosha, "a gipsy" (mezzo-soprano)
*Dunyasha, "Natasha's maid" (soprano)
*Gavrila, "Mme Akhrosimova's butler" (bass)
*Metivier, "a French doctor" (baritone)
*Tikhon Scherbatsky, "a partisan" (baritone)
*Vasilisa (soprano)
*Fyodor, "a partisan" (tenor)
*Matveyev, "a Muscovite" (baritone)
*Trishka (alto)
*Marshal Berthier (baritone)
*Marquis de Caulaincourt (silent role)
*General Belliard (baritone)
*Monsieur de Beausset (tenor)
*General Bennigsen (bass)
*Prince Mikhail Barclay de Tolly (tenor)
*General Yermolov (baritone)
*General Konovnitsin (tenor)
*General Rayevsky (baritone)
*Malasha, "a young girl" (silent role)
*Captain Ramballe (bass)
*Lieutenant Bonnet (tenor)
*Ivanov, a Muscovite (tenor)
*Jacquot (bass)
*Gérard (tenor)
*Mavra Kusminitchna (alto)
*Marshal Davout (bass)

Unnamed characters are:
The Host at the ball and his Major-Domo (tenors), Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky's servants - his Major-Domo and an old servant (baritones) and a housemaid (soprano), a French Abbé (tenor), two Prussian Generals (speaking roles), two staff-officers (tenor and bass), Prince Andrei's Orderly (tenor), Adjutants to General Compans and Prince Eugène (tenors) and to Marshal Murat (treble), Aides-de-camp to Napoleon (bass) and Kutuzov (tenor), an off-stage Orderly (tenor), a young workman (tenor), a shopkeeper (soprano), a French Officer (baritone), three Madmen (tenor, baritone, silent role), two French Actresses (soprano), an escort (silent role).


Part 1 (Peace)

The Overture or the Epigraph usually precedes the action

"Scene 1: After dark, in the garden of Count Rostov's country estate, May, 1806"

Andrei, who is a guest there, is depressed by the loss of his wife. Natasha, who also cannot sleep, looks out of her window and tells Sonya how beautiful the garden looks in the moonlight, and Andrei recovers his spirits.

"Scene 2: New Year's Eve, 1810"

At a ball in St Petersburg attended by the Tsar, Pierre encourages Andrei, who is attracted to Natasha, to ask her to dance. Anatole, also attracted to her, asks Hélène to arrange an introduction.

"Scene 3: Town house of Prince Nikolai, February 1812"

Count Rostov and Natasha visit Prince Nikolai's home. He is the father of Andrei, to whom she is engaged. Andrei has been abroad for a year. Princess Marya indicates that her father will not see them, and Count Rostov departs. However, the Prince, dressed eccentrically and behaving boorishly, does appear, and Natasha realises that he does not approve of the marriage.

"Scene 4: Pierre's Moscow house, May 1812"

Hélène tells Natasha that Anatole is attracted to her, and, after some hesitation, Natasha hears his declaration of love and agrees to meet him.

"Scene 5: Dolokhov's apartment, 12 June 1812"

Dolokhov has made the arrangements for his friend Anatole's elopement with Natasha. The coach-driver Balaga, Dolokhov and Anatole drink to the escapade and to the latter's mistress Matriosha.

"Scene 6: Later that night"

Natasha discovers that Sonya has given away her secret to Madame Akhrosimova, with whom they are staying. Anatole and Dolokhov are sent away by Gavrila, and Akhrosimova reduces Natasha to tears. Pierre arrives, reveals that Anatole is married, and agrees to ask Andrei to forgive Natasha. He shyly admits that he himself would want to marry her if he were free. Natasha makes her peace with Sonya.

"Scene 7: Later still"

Hélène is entertaining Anatole, Metivier and an Abbé. Pierre, returning home, upbraids Anatole and demands that he leave Moscow immediately. He agrees, and Pierre is left alone to bemoan his own circumstances. Denisov arrives with the news that Napoleon and his army are crossing into Russia. War is inevitable.

Part 2 (War)

The Epigraph is usually performed here if it was not used at the start of Part 1.

"Scene 8: Near Borodino, 25 August 1812"

Amid preparations for the defence of Moscow, Andrei and Denisov discuss utilising partisans to make life difficult for Napoleon's army. Pierre, wanting to observe the scene, arrives, and he and Andrei embrace, perhaps for the last time. Field-Marshal Kutuzov offers Andrei a position on his staff, but Andrei prefers to go into battle with his own regiment. The battle starts.

"Scene 9: Later that day"

Napoleon ponders his position, first refusing to commit more men, then agreeing. An unexploded cannon-ball lands at his feet and he kicks it away.

"Scene 10: Two days later"

Kutuzov and his generals are holding a Council of War at Fili, near Smolensk. The army will be at risk if Moscow is to be defended to the last - but if the army retreats, Moscow will be at the mercy of the French. Kutuzov decides that only by retreating, and potentially sacrificing Moscow, will there be any hope of victory.

"Scene 11: Moscow is burning"

The city is on fire because its citizens try to avoid a surrender. Pierre is caught up among some Muscovites, including the veteran Platon Karataev, who are accused by the French of fire-raising. As the asylum and theatre burn, lunatics and actresses flee - but Napoleon has to admit that the courage of the people has frustrated his plans.

"Scene 12: In a peasant's hut at Mitishi"

The wounded Prince Andrei, delirious, has been evacuated with the Rostovs from Moscow. Natasha, who had been unaware that he was among her fellow evacuees, visits him. She tries to apologise for her conduct, but he again declares his love for her, and they sing of their happiness as Natasha reassures him that he will live. He falls asleep, and his heartbeat (conveyed by an offstage chorus) stops for ever.

"Scene 13: November, 1812"

On the road to Smolensk, the retreating French are escorting a group of prisoners through a snow-storm. Karataev cannot keep up and is shot, but Pierre and the others are rescued by the partisans. Denisov tells Pierre that Andrei is dead but that Natasha is alive and well. Kutuzov and his men rejoice in their victory, and celebrate the indomitable will of the Russian people.


Broadly speaking, the music for Part 1 is lyrical and that for Part 2 is dramatic. There are a number of arias, though these are rarely free-standing and are usually preceded and/or followed by arioso or short conversational passages. Dance music is prominent in Part 1, military music and choruses in Part 2. A number of themes, associated especially with Natasha, Andrei and Pierre, recur throughout the opera. Prokofiev borrowed Natasha's and Andrei's principal themes from incidental music that he had written for a dramatisation of Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin": Natasha's theme had been associated with Lensky, and Andrei's with Tatyana. Kutuzov's aria in Scene 10 (also sung by the chorus at the end of the opera) re-used music that Prokofiev had written for Eisenstein's film "Ivan the Terrible".



;Orchestra:Piccolo:2 Flutes:2 Oboes:Cor Anglais:2 Clarinets:Bass Clarinet:2 Bassoons:Contrabassoon:4 Horns:3 Trumpets:3 Trombones:Tuba:Timpani:Harp:Strings (1st and 2nd Violins, Violas, Cellos, Double basses):Percussion (Triangle, Wooden Drum, Tambourine, Snare Drum, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Tam-tam, Glockenspiel, Xylophone)

elected recordings

External links

* [http://www.prokofiev.org/catalog/workessential.cfm?WorkID=172 "War and Peace" at prokofiev.org]
* [http://satirik.com/v/VOINAIMIR.html "War and Peace" at "Theatralnaya Entsiklopedia" (in Russian)]




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