Reviewed by Jane Warwick
The Welsh National Opera provided yet another excellent evening’s entertainment to an appreciative audience in Southampton’s recently refurbished Mayflower Theatre on Saturday.
War and Peace is set in 1805 when Russia was invaded by 500,000 French troops. Natasha (played by soprano Lauren Michelle), and Prince Andrei (played by baritone Jonathan McGovern) fall in love and find their love challenged when Andrei is sent abroad. Natasha is tempted by Anatole, (played by Adrian Dwyer), who enjoys chasing virgin women and is encouraged by him to elope. Luckily this does not happen, but Natasha is now in disgrace especially as she finds out he is already married. To avoid scandal, Pierre (a friend of Andrei played by tenor Mark Le Brocq) forces Anatole to go abroad and recognises as a result of the role he plays, he also has strong feelings for Natasha. The second half of the opera tells of the invasion and the roles Andrei, Anatole and Pierre play in this. Natasha helps nurse the dying Andrei and they are reconciled before his death. The French eventually retreat, and the Russian ordeal is over. Pierre’s wife and friend are dead, and the final act has Natasha by Pierre’s side gathering his hand-written notes.
I was not sure what an opera on War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev (based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy) would be like having seen the televised and film versions which are known epics.
At the beginning, there in centre of the stage is a writing desk with Tolstoy writing and his words appearing on the black screen behind him. We then have the choral opening of this performance which was impressive in terms of music, voices, (over 75 people on stage), scenery and costumes, (with Tolstoy becoming part of the crowd watching on).
There is only one interval which clearly divides the story with the first act representing peace time and the second act being war time. The staging is simple and the changes between scenes appeared to be effortless. For a number of scenes, there was a simple side of a house which totally dominated the stage, and this was used to introduce us to Natasha and Andrei; then used later as the backdrop for the meeting of the Russian general and all other generals and finally for the deathbed scene of Andrei. I really liked the effective and clever use of a huge screen at the back of the stage which changed and together with the English surtitles enables the opera to move from one scene to another. I was impressed by the battlefield screen showing the cavalry moving through. The motion screen was also particularly effective showing houses in Moscow catching fire and the fires spreading from one house to another. However, I did not understand why the chandeliers had to move during the ball scene.
Mendelson’s score was well executed by the orchestra ably conducted by Tomas Hanus, but my least favourite part of this opera was the singing not because of the singers who sang well and clearly particularly Natasha; but due to the fact the libretto was sung in English which gave the effect of being less romantic than those in Italian plus there seemed to be less arias and more arioso.
The Mayflower is an excellent venue and has just undergone a £7.5 million refurbishment. It is now resplendent in red and gold and has improved seating in stalls and circle and better sight lines making it an even better venue than before. The staff are always friendly, and the theatre is deservedly very popular. There is good parking and a good selection of restaurants within easy reach making it the ideal place for an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
For other shows at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton or to book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk or call the box office on 02380 711811.
Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1GE | 02380 711811