Major Operas | War and Peace by Sergei Prokofiev | Modern Era
Composed: 1941–42; 1946–47; rev. up to 1953
Final version (13 scenes) premiered: 1959, Moscow
Libretto by the composer and Mira Mendelson after Tolstoy’s novel
1806: Andrey Bolkonsky is weary of life. He overhears Natasha Rostova talking to her cousin Sonya about the beauty of life. Her words renew his belief in happiness.
1810, St Petersburg: Andrey meets Natasha at her first ball. They fall in love.
February 1812, Moscow: Andrey and Natasha are engaged, but he is abroad. Natasha and her father are treated rudely by Andrey’s father and sister, who want to prevent the marriage.
May: Pierre Bezukhov’s wife, Hélène, introduces Natasha to her brother Anatol. She mistakes his practised seduction manner for passion and is tempted to elope.
June: Despite misgivings, notably that Anatol is already married, Dolokhov agrees to help him. Natasha is waiting for Anatol, but Sonya has betrayed the plan. Akhrosimova lectures Natasha and persuades Pierre to tell her about Anatol’s marriage. She pleads with Pierre to ask Andrey to forgive her. Moved by her despair, he declares that he would marry her if he were free. Natasha attempts suicide with arsenic. Pierre confronts Anatol. He forces him to hand over Natasha’s letters and leave Moscow. Denisov brings news that Napoleon is about to invade.
August, Borodino: Soldiers are digging defences. Denisov explains his partisan tactics to Andrey. Peasants report French atrocities. Pierre visits Andrey. The troops parade before Field Marshal Kutuzov. Andrey declines a post on Kutuzov’s staff. Napoleon, watching the battle, senses that destiny is turning against him. The Russian generals are gathered at a council of war. Against their advice, Kutuzov decides to withdraw and surrender Moscow, rather than lose his army.
September–October: Moscow has been sacked. Pierre intends to assassinate Napoleon. Fires are started all over the city. Pierre is arrested but is spared execution. He is befriended by an old soldier, Karatayev. Natasha has found Andrey among the wounded near Moscow. He is delirious. She asks him to forgive her. They declare their mutual love but he dies.
November: The French are retreating, defeated by ‘General Winter’. They have taken Russian prisoners with them, including Pierre and Karatayev, who has been shot. The others are rescued by Denisov’s partisans. Pierre is told that Hélène and Andrey are dead, but life is returning to Moscow. The Russian people, led by Kutuzov, celebrate their victory.
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