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War and Peace
(by Sergei Prokofiev)

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Opera in two parts and five acts.

Composed in 1941-43.

Libretto by Sergei Prokofiev and Myra Mendelson, afer the 19th century novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Premiere: 7 June 1945 in the Conservatory, Moscow, USSR.

Natasha Rostova from War and Peace (old postcard image)

Natasha Rostova from War and Peace.

Image: Postcard by Elizaveta Bem (1843–1914).

Part One – "Peace"

The scene is Russia in 1810. Prince Andrei Bulkonsky is happy to hear Natasha Rostova, the daughter of a poor landowner, sing of the joys of spring.

A few months later Andrei and Natasha meet again at a New Year’s Eve ball and fall in love. Two years later they become engaged. Andrei’s father disapproves of the match and he sends his son away, hoping that the latter thereby will forget Natasha.

At a ball in Count Pierre’s house, Natasha meets Prince Anatol who woos her. Despite warnings from her friends about Anatol’s bad reputation, Anatol wins her heart and the two plan to elope. Count Pierre warns Natasha that Anatol is already married and then Pierre confesses that he too loves her. Natasha suddenly feels remorse.

Pierre demands that Anatol give up Natasha. News comes that Napoleon and his army are marching into Russia.

War and Peace (by Leo Tolstoy) (1942 edition) (image)

Prokofiev's opera was based on Leo Tolstoy's classic novel War and Peace. The above photo is of a 1942 edition of the novel.

Part Two – "War"

Russia, August 1812. Russia’s army is about to face Napoleon’s forces in the Battle of Borodino. Andrei joins the army in an attempt to forget Natasha. He rejects the offer of a desk job and leaves for the battle front.

Napoleon is surprised at the steadfast Russian resistance. At the same time Kutuzov, the Russian field marshall, reluctantly decides to abandon Moscow (as it cannot be defended successfully) and regroup his forces elsewhere. As Napoleon occupies Moscow, the capital’s citizens burn it to the ground.

Elsewhere in French-occupied Moscow, Pierre discovers that Natasha and her family have fled, taking with them some wounded soldiers including Andrei. Pierre sets out to assassinate Napoleon but is arrested. Natasha comes across Andrei and begs his forgiveness. But it is too late: Andrei dies.

November 1812. The French forces are retreating through the fierce Russian winter. They take Russian prisoners with them, some of whom (including Pierre) are liberated when Russian partisans attack the column.

Pierre learns that Andrei is dead and that Natasha is sick. He hopes that she will be able to love him when she is better again. Field Marshall Kutuzov is cheered by the Russian people, whom he congratulates for their great victory.

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Author: David Paul Wagner
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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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