War and Peace

War and Peace

The penultimate performance of Prokofiev's War and Peace this season at the Met is tonight, and how I wish I could go, if only to see the enormous sparkly red chicken puppet again. Also, I read in the Financial Times that the production features 4 live chickens, in addition to a horse, a dog, and a goat, not to mention the 170 singers. It is idle talk on my part, as I have not yet finished reading Tolstoy's work. It took 557 pages, but War and Peace does have an opera scene in Volume II, Part Five, VIII-X. I especially like the description of Natasha's initial impressions of the opera in Chapter IX:

After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed grotesque and amazing to Natasha. She could not follow the opera nor even listen to the music; she saw only the painted cardboard and the queerly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she first felt ashamed for the actors and then amused at them. She looked at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned. "I suppose it has to be like this!" she thought. She kept looking round in turn at the rows of pomaded heads in the stalls and then at the seminude women in the boxes, especially at Helene in the next box, who- apparently quite unclothed- sat with a quiet tranquil smile, not taking her eyes off the stage. And feeling the bright light that flooded the whole place and the warm air heated by the crowd, Natasha little by little began to pass into a state of intoxication she had not experienced for a long while. She did not realize who and where she was, nor what was going on before her. As she looked and thought, the strangest fancies unexpectedly and disconnectedly passed through her mind: the idea occurred to her of jumping onto the edge of the box and singing the air the actress was singing, then she wished to touch with her fan an old gentleman sitting not far from her, then to lean over to Helene and tickle her.

Anna Karenina

Cuttlefish in Anna KareninaAt the moment I am reading the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. Though I attended a performance of Prokofiev's opera at the Met a few years ago, I stubbornly refused to read the titles. Thus I did not manage to piece together the plot, as my Russian skills are minimal, so the book has not been spoilt for me. Last month I finished reading Anna Karenina, unwittingly following one Ms. Winfrey, whose show I have never watched. Most of Part 5, Chapter 33 of Anna Karenina occurs at the opera.

Vronsky, listening with one ear, moved his opera glass from the stalls and scanned the boxes. Near a lady in a turban and a bald old man, who seemed to wave angrily in the moving opera glass, Vronsky suddenly caught sight of Anna's head, proud, strikingly beautiful, and smiling in the frame of lace. She was in the fifth box, twenty paces from him. She was sitting in front, and slightly turning, was saying something to Yashvin. The setting of her head on her handsome, broad shoulders, and the restrained excitement and brilliance of her eyes and her whole face reminded him of her just as he had seen her at the ball in Moscow. But he felt utterly different towards her beauty now. In his feeling for her now there was no element of mystery, and so her beauty, though it attracted him even more intensely than before, gave him now a sense of injury. She was not looking in his direction, but Vronsky felt that she had seen him already.

A Pernicious and Corrupt Art

Last Monday I went to see Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Metropolitan Opera. Ordinarily I would avoid Prokofiev (1891-1953) altogether, his music is too modern for my conventional sensibilities. Also, Tolstoy himself despised opera, calling it a pernicious, corrupt art form, an ungainly mixing of different modalities of art. However, my friends wanted to go to the opera, and they could not afford to go to Le Nozze di Figaro, as the inexpensive tickets were sold-out for the particular evening we were in town. The only other option was War and Peace, which P had been reading. The funny thing was that C started reading War and Peace and decided that she couldn't go to the opera after all, because she wasn't finished in time and she loved it too much to spoil it in the middle. They both read it in French, apparently half the book is in French, and they are both native speakers of French, so there you are. Seeing this opera made me want to read the book itself, but it has to wait for now.

The opera was very impressive in scope, as it calls for about 60 roles, a huge chorus and a ballet. Just seeing that many people on stage is really incredible in and of itself. It was also the longest opera I have seen thus far, a mere 4.5 hours. The Metropolitan did the whole thing in one night, with only one intermission, which I thought was commendable. The music was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, it was not particularly memorable though. Anna Netrebko does have a most lovely voice, though I believe her role in Falstaff at SF Opera showed her voice more to her advantage than this opera. Again, the Metropolitan had wonderful singers all around, good staging, clean choreography, and pretty costumes. The sets were very clever, the stage was set at an angle so that upstage was actually up from downstage, and there was a circular part of the stage that could spin about, like a gigantic Lazy Susan, except flush with the rest of the stage, not raised above it. The whole experience wasn't nearly as good as Le Nozze, which goes to show that the music is essential to this opera business.

My favorite part of the opera was when they were having a celebration in the second part of the opera, and they had a huge red chicken made of cloth, it was like an enormous puppet. There were also red sparkles at this part. I couldn't believe I was seeing this in real life, it was awfully surreal.

Naturally, we must include the obligatory complaint about certain audience members. There was a lady and her child who was around 12 or so. The child ate elaborate chocolates that she unwrapped from cellophane for the second half of the first part of the opera. It was very loud, the people in front of her turned around to give her dirty looks, and my companions both noticed and were disturbed. Unfortunately, she was not directly next to me, or else I would have had her stop immediately. I had to wait until the intermission to ask, kindly as I could manage, that they not eat during the opera as it was distracting. One of the ladies in front of them smiled on me approvingly, so I felt a bit more justified in my request. They were quiet the rest of the opera, which was very nice. Why people cannot manage to do one thing at one time boggles the mind. Is there not a time and a place for different things?