Friday, January 04, 2008

War and Peace

Went to see War and Peace at the Met with Alexia last night. We got rush orchestra tickets, which are a good deal except you have to wait in line for about six hours to get them. I was the first one there and two crotchedy old people cut me (I know I should respect my elders, but I really really don't like them). That bothered me more than it should have. Still, it was a wait of epic proportions, and though we were inside it was really cold and there was major construction going on one room away. Still, we played Risk which was quite appropriate and made a few very bored people jealous.

Anyway, on to the opera. First half was really boring. To be fair, that isn't really the opera's fault. The first half of the book is also rather dull. It is a lot of noble people loafing about the capital being melancholic (very Pride and Prejudice like, I hate Pride and Prejudice). Yes it all looks very pretty, but it is dull. But let's be honest, war is a lot more interesting than peace. So yes it all looked very pretty, bu there wasn't much meat to grab on to.

The second half was really good. The sets and props were amazing. They had over a hundred soldiers marching in different scenes and Napoleon rode in on a massive white horse in a few scenes. Moscow burning was spectacularly done (especially a phoenix from the ashed effect they did). There was some very good commentary on war, particularly when Napoleon's manservant is trying to entreat him to eat a rather luxurious breakfast while a dead body is being carried in front of them. there is also a great bit where they use the hydrolic stage to raise Napoleon and show him to be standing on the corpses of hundreds of soldiers.

I liked an opera quite a bit. I am a sucker for romantic nationalism. The music isn't especially memorable, lacking the same dissonance of Prokofiev's more memorable pieces from Romeo and Juliette. Still, what amazed me the most was that this opera was put on in the Stalinist Soviet Union in the middle of World War II.

Throughout the opera there is a lot of talk about God, the tsar, and faith. None of those things were encouraged at the time, in fact they were pretty harshly punished. Also, though the critique of Napoleon would apply to Hitler, it easily works well as a critique of Stalin as well, who led alone and with no care for the lives he sacrificed, which is how Napoleon is characterized. There are some very Soviet things opera: the peasants are depicted as the heroes and there is a lot of talk about their strength being the greatest and of their "revolting." Without a proletariat to work with, the peasantry was used as a substitute (even though the Soviet leadership wasn't too fond of them). The use of the peasant chorus reminded me a lot of how Brecht uses Choruses in his plays (i.e. to present a collective willing to sacrifice the interests and lives of individuals to achieve a "common good").

Still, despite all of that I found it very hard to believe the opera was produced when it was. It really doesn't conform with the censorship of the time. I wondered about that until I looked at the Wikipedia discovered that the opera was never allowed to have an opening and was only allowed one very small performance equivalent to a theatrical reading. Suddenly it made a lot more sense to me. Produced in the Soviet Union, but not shown.

In closing, the opera is very interesting both because of the strength or the original text, the modern style of the music, and viewing how the whole opera was put together to at least try and conform with Soviet censors.

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