Bondarchuk's War and Peace

War and Peace Conquers the Canadian Opera Company

Never had to read War & Peace in school? Couldn't get around to seeing one of the many filmic adaptations? Like big music and big voices? If you answered yes to those questions, why not see War & Peace at the Four Seasons Centre as part of the Fall Season at the Canadian Opera Company (COC)?

I must admit, I never even attempted Tolstoy's novel and the films looked daunting, but after seeing the Opera, I think I finally get the full gist of the story. Even amongst the Napoleonic War and the threats against Russian society, there's just something about Natasha Rostov!

The first thing I noticed was the sheer size of the cast required for several of the larger scenes, not merely supernumeraries, but performers. The COC Chorus has not used this many male and female voices since perhaps last years Don Carlos, and I did so miss a good enraged crowd scene! In terms of staging, War and Peace combines a unique sliding video-screen marking the changes in scenes, as the story is quite a dense one, with a very deep stage which acts as not only a dance floor but a boudoir, a battlefield and more.

The score was extremely immersive, almost a danger in an opera where you need to pay attention to every small detail. For those curious, examples of the score can be found on the COC website. With regards to the performances, despite the robust nature of the music, the leads still managed to project and didn't get lost in the sound, particularly guest artist with the COC, Russian Elena Semenova who shone as Natasha Rostov, the 'it' girl in the story. Even when Natasha is lamenting the most teenage of angsts, Elena managed to play the character with enough charm and depth to keep the audience riveted.

Other performers to look out for would be the scheming siblings Oleg Balashov as Anatole and Laryssa Kostiuk as his sister Helena, who brought forth most of the laughs in an otherwise melodramatic opera, as well as the most lascivious gestures this side of Don Giovanni.

While War & Peace is quite sold out for most days, there are tickets available here and there, especially for the first two performances on Friday October 10th and Tuesday October 14th. If you're 29 and under, there's even a special deal through Opera For a New Age where you can get tickets anywhere in the Four Season Centre for $20 for the first two performances. For more information, visit the COC website.

Image: The Battlegrounds of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace from Alternative Film Guide

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