'War & Peace', by Prokofiev at The Hungarian State Opera
'War & Peace', by Prokofiev at The Hungarian State Opera. Photo by Carole Pardi

‘War & Peace’, by Prokofiev at The Hungarian State Opera

The Hungarian State Opera to present the opera version of Tolstoy's monumental novel for the first time in Hungary

Prokofiev’s opera War & Peace is presented on 28 January 2023 by the internationally renowned Catalan opera director Calixto Bieito in a joint production between the Hungarian State Opera and the Grand Théâtre de Genève. The cast featuring 28 soloists is led by Andrea Brassói-Jőrös, Szabolcs Brickner and Csaba Szegedi, the OPERA Orchestra and Chorus are conducted by Alan Buribayev.

The will to live of the physically and mentally broken Andrei Bolkonsky, wishing to die, is restored by his budding love for the young and cheerful Natasha Rostova in vain as the warm-hearted girl and her family are cruelly and harshly rejected by Andrei’s father, the elderly Prince Bolkonsky. As a result of Andrei’s obedience, Natasha falls into the net of the married Anatole Kuragin, but his elopement with the girl is eventually prevented by Natasha’s cousin, Sonya. The humiliated Natasha attempts suicide in her despair, unsuccessfully. As a result of the events, Kuragin’s brother-in-law, the idealistic but stubborn Pierre Bezukhov develops sincere feelings for the wounded girl. In the ensuing war, lost and desired love, dreams of conquest, freedom and heroism, the horrors of destruction question in an increasingly surreal way all the ideals that once seemed important to the protagonists.

Leo Tolstoy’s monumental novel, published in sequels between 1865 and 1869, set during the Napoleonic Wars and involving hundreds of characters, is one of the most outstanding works of world literature. Sergei Prokofiev was interested in the operatic adaptation of the large-scale work as soon as his return to the Soviet Union in 1938, but he received new impetus to compose the piece after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 by the Nazi German Empire. Although the piano version of the first version of the opera was already completed in the summer of 1942, and the first half of the piece, originally planned for two evenings, was presented by the Small Theatre of Leningrad (today’s Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg) in 1946, under the influence of the ever-changing demands of Stalin’s cultural policy, Prokofiev carried on working on his masterpiece until his death in 1953, which was finally staged in its entirety in 1959 by the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

A co-production agreement was signed between the Grand Théâtre de Genève and the Hungarian State Opera in 2019 to stage the epic, musically extremely diverse piece that evokes the romantic Tchaikovsky in its portrayal of people in peacetime, Mussorgsky in its monumental patriotic choral tableaus in wartime, and in parts reminiscent of Eisenstein’s vision as a film director. The premiere of the production – featuring sets based on the palace interiors of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, meticulously recreated by the scenic workshop of the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest – was held in Switzerland in September 2021. The opera was staged by the internationally acknowledged Calixto Bieito, whose earlier production of Carmen also debuted in Hungary in 2021 on Margaret Island and later at the Eiffel Art Studios. In his contemporary interpretation of the opera, he tried to create surrealistic images of the grotesque and exaggerated elements also present in music. At the same time, the film music elements are conveyed by the activity on the stage, and the war is also defined by the conflicts between the characters and their internal conflicts as well, but the production avoids concrete references to the recent and current political events. Bieito’s regular co-creators include highly acclaimed artists in European theatre such as multi-award-winning set designer Rebecca Ringst, Ingo Krügler, who worked for major Parisian fashion houses before choosing theatre costume design as a profession, video artist and independent filmmaker Sarah Derendinger, responsible for moving image installations, and dramaturg Beate Breidenbach, who is also active as a playwright.

In addition to its running time of four hours, the monumentality of War & Peace is also made special by the extraordinary number of performers: Prokofiev wrote a total of 72 soloist roles in his opera. In the co-production between OPERA and the Grand Théâtre, 28 singers play a total of 45 roles, in Budapest, the main roles are performed by Csaba Szegedi (Andrei Bolkonsky), Andrea Brassói-Jőrös (Natasha Rostova) and Szabolcs Brickner (Pierre Bezukhov) alongside Péter Fried / István Rácz (General Kutuzov), Zsolt Haja (Napoleon), Zoltán Nyári (Kuragin), Erika Gál (Hélène), Melinda Heiter (Sonya), István Kovács (Ilya Rostov), and Péter Balczó (Platon Karataev). The Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus (chorus director: Gábor Csiki) are conducted by Alan Buribayev, principal conductor of Astana Opera, Kazakhstan.

After the 28 January 2023 premiere, Prokofiev’s War & Peace can be seen six more times this season, on 1, 3, 5, 8, 12 and 18 February at the Hungarian State Opera.

'War & Peace', by Prokofiev at The Hungarian State Opera
‘War & Peace’, by Prokofiev at The Hungarian State Opera

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