Prokofiev’s ‘original’ War and Peace to be premiered

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Scottish scholar restores more ‘human’ version of opera

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A new production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace is to present a ‘de-Sovietised’ version of the opera. This is a meticulous re-construction by Prokofiev scholar, Dr Rita McAllister, of what is believed to be the composer’s original conception.

McAllister spent two years researching and examining original manuscripts in Russia – with the blessing of the composer’s family – so that she could reconstruct the original opera. Prokofiev was forced by Soviet officials to turn his work into an epic hymn to Mother Russia and glorification of ‘the people’s Field-Marshal’, Mikhail Kutuzov, officially seen as a precursor of Generalissimo Stalin.

Prokofiev is known to have considered adapting Tolstoy’s War and Peace for the operatic stage even before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The obvious historic parallel with the Napoleonic invasion of 1812, featured in the war part of Tolstoy's novel, then inevitably affected the final form of Prokofiev's opera, resulting in the 13-scene epic we know today. 

The composer had originally envisaged a more intimate opera centred on the character Natasha and the three men in her life. To restore the original version, McAllister has on one hand removed several sections which were subsequently imposed, either by the conductor of its first production, Samuil Samosud (the New Year's Eve ball scene in Part 1 and Kutuzov’s great aria in Part 2) or by Soviet officials (the patriotic choruses and the mighty choral epigraph); on the other, McAllister has reinstated several duets involving light-hearted banter between characters, making the opera, she says, ‘more human'.

The opera is being staged by the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, with support from Scottish Opera and the Rachmaninov State Conservatoire in Rostov-on-Don. Performances are being staged at Glasgow (22 and 23 January) and Edinburgh (28 and 30 January).