Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Sergei Prokofiev War and Peace|
Actors: Olga Gouriakova, Nathan Gunn, Robert Brubaker, Anatoli Kocherga, Yelena Obraztsova
Director: Franšois Roussillon
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Military & War
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Lavish Yet Intimate Epic, Absolutely Stellar Production
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 12/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Very much in the vein of the original Tolstoy novel upon which it is based, as well as the two extravagant movie versions, this production of "War and Peace" is epic in every sense of the word. It is a magnificent staging of Prokofiev's massive opera, directed with great emotional sweep by an American, Francesca Zambello. There are 43 listed roles, though there are dozens more that make up the chorus and background scenes. The scenic design, as you would expect, is impressive. It is no wonder this is rarely staged and consequently ideal for DVD, especially for the four-language optional subtitles (it is sung completely in Russian) and digital sound.
So big is the thirteen-scene, 3 1/2-hour production that it's split into two discs - the seven scenes of Act I, "Peace", are on the first and the remaining six on the second, Act II, "War". Among tastefully opulent sets, "Peace" depicts the carefree, luxurious life of Russian aristocracy focusing on the love story of Natacha Rostova and Prince Andrei Bolkonski, including a lovely and rather complicated ballroom sequence. The disc ends with a stunning choral epilogue that builds from Pierre's response to the news that the French have entered Moscow. It's an effective juxtaposition of the original production where this piece actually began Act II when war is declared between France and Russia. With impressive battlefield details laid out in dark shadows, the second part depicts various events of the war highlighting the two opposing commanders, Kutuzov and Napoleon, and including the battle of Borodino, the climactic scene between Natacha and the dying Andrei, and finally the triumphant liberation of Moscow. Not a moment is wasted, and Zambello made some significant edits, especially in Act II and probably to the consternation of purists, to ensure the dramatic intensity of the piece remains unabated throughout. She succeeds admirably and even achieves a very clear sound onstage, amazing when one considers the scope. The clarity seems particularly critical in light of Prokofiev's music - powerful, often beautiful and effectively mood-changing to match the flow of life and death throughout the piece.
Zambello has assembled an excellent cast of mainly Russian performers in order to remain true to the libretto. As Natacha, soprano Olga Gouriakova is radiant and youthful with a stunning coloratura that amply conveys her character's passionate spontaneity. During Act II, Kutuzov is sung very well by bass Nikolai Anatoli Kotcherga, and he gives a strong reading of the Field Marshal's big number. As his larger-than-life counterpart, Napoleon, baritone Vassily Gerello is splendid without being overwhelming. In exception, two Americans play the pivotal roles of Andrei and Pierre. Baritone Nathan Gunn is ideal as the prince - handsome and dashing in appearance, appropriately brooding when it comes to his conflicted love for Natacha, and a powerfully masculine voice of warmth and openness. With their voices beautifully intertwined, Gunn and Gouriakova handle Andrei's death scene with a wondrous intimacy unexpected in an opera of this scale. Tenor Robert Brubaker (who bears a striking resemblance to Elton John) sings the role of Pierre with surprising intensity, even when he shows the vulnerable side of his character. His approach works in highlighting Pierre's strong intellectual curiosity about life and society. The chorus is used effectively throughout to intensify major scenes, in particular, the ending to both acts.
Filmed at the Opéra Bastille (Paris National Opera) in 2000, this is a stunning achievement photographed with cinematic flair and performed with singular beauty by all involved. Music director Gary Bertini conducts the French orchestra with a fitting balance of epic drama and emotional depth. An impressive achievement given how sprawling Prokofiev's music can be here. Kudos also to the impressive sound and dramatically effective lighting, especially during the "War" section. It is no wonder the ending bows and curtain calls seem endless. There is an accompanying documentary on both discs, which runs about eighty minutes in total. In surprising detail, Zambello shares how she coordinated this effort, and it is eye-opening to see the intensive rehearsals and personal interviews with the cast. Strongly recommended."
One of the best opera DVDs yet
Ed Uyeshima | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you're interested in opera, in Prokofiev, in theatre, you must have these DVDs. I bought them for a friend this Christmas, to whom I sent the following message, which is not a detailed review I admit, but sums up my opinion: "I swear to you these are absolutely the best opera DVDs I've ever seen. You watch them like a movie. You're hooked. The singers are good-looking. The lighting is superb. The costumes are outstanding. The scenes are shot like paintings. You're proud of the Opéra National [author's note: we both live in Paris] and glad to pay income tax. I saw the same opera at the Met - not at all the same result: dime-store sets, badly-cut costumes, ridiculous extras..." This, I believe, is one of those rare productions in which nearly everything is right and what's more, any shortcomings it may have had in the theatre (Nathan Gunn was a little under-powered for a theatre the size of the Bastille, for example) disappear in the DVDs, while things such as costume detail (pretty amazing) come to life. The reasons to have these DVDs are therefore several. They're a record of a great modern production (this is really one of Francesca Zambello's most successful); the performance is at a high level; they offer an example of what the Paris opera, with the generously unstinting support of the happy taxpayer, can achieve at its very best; they're as gripping as any movie... For all these reasons, jump at them. By the way, I have no financial stake in this venture whatsoever!"
An American in Paris
bunburina | United States | 07/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It took a visionary American lady to bring this monumental Russian work to the stage, ironically in Paris of all places. The result was glorious. Francesca Zambello pulled off the very difficult task of staging an opera like this spectacularly. Yes, all the special effects were there: battle scene, cannons, burning of Moscow and over 200 people on the stage. Most importantly she managed to tell the story clearly. This is "War and Peace" after all.
The singers were mainly Russians, with two American male lead soloists. Nathan Gunn and Robert Brubaker gave a well sung and well acted performance. The Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky owns the role of Prince Andrei. Mr. Gunn came very close. His handsome voice handled the high notes very well. He certainly worked hard on his Russian dictions and it showed. The phrasing was very nice and natural. Mr. Gunn also had the presence and the nobility of a prince. It is very clear that Mr.Gunn is on his way to a distinguished career.
Mr. Brubaker sang Pierre with different emotional ranges. But his Pierre sounded more like a good-natured country squire. It lacked the intensity of a very complicated man. (By the way, a pre-superstar Franco Corelli sang Pierre at the first complete staging of War and Peace in Italy in 1953)
The Russian mezzo Elena Zaremba is always a delight to see and hear. Here, as Helene, she was sophisticated, beautiful, flirtatious and very corrupted. She let us know how to use just the voice to portray a glamorous woman.
As the heroine, Natasha, Ms. Olga Guryakova got high mark for her performance. Slim, beautiful and with beautiful voice to match, she is an ideal Natasha. Her acting ability is as good as her singing. You will fall in love with Nahasha after you have heard Ms.Guryakova's performance. Mind you, I usually prefer Tatyana from Onegin much much better. (It would be fantastic to see Ms. Guryakova and Mr. Gunn in a production of Onegin. They look so cute and sound so good together, not to mention their matching dimples.) Amazon has Ms.Guryakova's name with the wrong spelling. Her recital cds released by Delos are certainly worth to check out. Anna Netrebko is not the only rising young soprano from Russia. (another stunning Natasha in the Met production with the true Russian Prince of Hvorostovsky. Will the Met release their version on dvd or cd? Should we write and beg?)
As the Field Marshal Kutuzov, Anatoli Kotcherga brought down the house with an old fashioned emotionally charged performance. Of course, the rousing music helped a lot.
Personally I prefer the Peace part much better with the hauntingly beautiful waltz as the centerpiece. The War part has a lot of big choral music which gives a rather chaotic feeling.
The opera is very approachable with a lot of nice tunes. So don't be afraid of it. I am not a modern opera fan and my opera listening taste is very conservative. This dvd is a very good start. The extra feature is a little bit long but gives us an idea the work involved to bring this opera to stage. (So if you want to see a production of War and Peace in your local opera house, you better send a sizable donation to the opera house. Uncle Sam does not pay for any opera productions.) Please don't miss the piano music in the rehearsal. It is very different sounding from the orchestra version. Quite beautiful by itself.
If you would like to explore more about Prokofiev's "War and Peace", try to get the Bolshoi version of this opera on cd with Galina Vishnevskaya in her prime, the reigning Onegin of that era, Yevgeny Kibkalo, the great mezzo Irina Arkhipova and the highlight of cd: Pavel Lisitsian's Napoleon.
The almost ideal War and Peace
Richard | Minneapolis, Mongolia | 06/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What an incredible production of this masterpiece. I know it's going against the grain to think this is a masterpiece, but I call it so. What Prokofiev has done is write the ultimate music drama grand opera summing up of the Russian tradition. Don't think it's a grand opera? Check out the burning of Moscow which functions as the great 2nd or 3rd act finale. It is also filled with arias and duets. And it pays homage to the Russian tradition with all those choruses and songs.
Prokofiev has always grabbed me in his later years with his melodies. Romeo, Cinderella and War is filled with them. He may be the foremost melodist of the 20th century - an astounding claim considering how he began his career. When he reveals one of the great melodies of the 20th century in Kutozov's aria the spirit lifts mightily.
This performance is wonderful. The singers look their parts, they sing beaufifully and act well. The production makes do with a minimum of scenery so that the show moves quickly. The war is well done - nearly an impossible task. And the burning of Moscow becomes a great coup de theatre. The performance is cut - and in the excellent 90 minute documentary the creators explain that since this is the first French performance it might be better to cut in the hope of converting people than forcing them to sit through almost 50 more minutes and risk alienating them. I am in favor of the full version - there are some great choruses which although patriotic in the soviet way are still good music. The only cut in Part 1 is the overture. All the rest is in the War half. Whatever - do not miss this unique overwhelming theatrical experience - you are unlikely to find another like it."