Financial Times / December 12, 2007 / Arts
War and Peace
Metropolitan Opera, New York
Nothing exceeds likes excess. The Maryinsky version of
Prokofiev's wild and sometimes wonderful "War and Peace,"
which returned to the Met on Monday after a five-year lapse,
boasts a cast that would make any statistician delirious.
Called to duty for this four-and-a-quarter hour marathon
were 52 soloists, 118 choristers, 41 dancers and 227
supernumeraries, not to mention a horse, a dog, a goat and
four chickens. Somehow, I missed the chickens.
The conductor, of course, was Valery Gergiev. He directed
the musical sprawl and the expressive traffic with much
sweep, fair cohesion and chancy precision. Refocusing the
Tolstoy narrative, Andrei Konchalovsky imposed fluid,
quasi-cinematic images on George Tsypin's skeletal set, the
action precariously centered atop a revolving dome. The
result: a very busy, reasonably modern, intermittently
poignant night at the opera.
Two singers, both making debuts, offered revelations. Marina
Poplavskaya ennobled the vicissitudes of Natasha with
lustrous tone and febrile impetuosity. The soprano from
Moscow moved like a dancer, sang like an angel. Tall, dashing
and eminently sensitive, Alexej Markov provided a magnetic,
melancholic counterforce as Andrei. The baritone from Viborg
conveyed equal parts fervour, elegance and eloquence.
Kim Begley, a British stranger in this Russian paradise,
held his own brilliantly as an awkwardly heroic Pierre
Bezukhov. Optimistically drafted for the climactic platitudes
of Marshal Kutuzov, Samuel Ramey tried in vain to make
histrionic strength outweigh vocal weakness. Time has taken
its toll. Oleg Balashov made a properly forceful cad of
Anatol. Vassily Gerello returned as an oddly pallid Napoleon.
Ekaterina Semenchuk (Sonya) and Larisa Shevchenko (Madame
Akhrosimova) defended two generations of Maryinsky honour
in supporting vignettes, and Nikolai Gassiev offered a wily
character-study of Platon Karatayev. The all-important
chorus, trained by Donald Palumbo, made a mighty, reverberant,
resilient noise, and the orchestra responded to Gergiev's
vague commands with dauntless bravado.
When all was sung and roared, one left the house filled
with admiration rather than awe. Blame Prokofiev. The first
half of the opera rises with nervy lyricism. The second
half falls with blaring bombast. Peace, as usual, is better
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