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War and Peace at the Met

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It was a spectacular show, and last Tuesday nobody fell or jumped from the great orb of the stage. It was also the first time I've seen a horse on stage that looked like it was part of the action. It was Napoleon's white steed, and the scene was the burning of Moscow by the Muscovites to thwart the invader. Napoleon sings something to the effect of "They're burning down their own wonderful town. What barbarians!" And he goes trudging off sadly on his horse.

In addition to the dramatic fire, there was a raging snowstorm that made the NYCB Nutcracker snowfall seem like less than a flurry. The cast was uniformly superb. Dimitri Hvorostovsky of the silvery locks and resonant baritone was a touching Andrei and Anna Netrebko really looked the part of Natasha and sang magnificently. As did everyone -- there are some sixty singing parts and I didn't detect a single weak link. Though the cast was mostly Russian, Samuel Ramey as Field Marshal Kutuzov deserves special mention. The night I was there he got the biggest ovations of all.

The dancing seemed negligible. For the record, there was a Columbine, Rachel Schuette, a Harlequin, Warren Adams, and a Character Bellerina, Kelly Ebsary. The choreographer was Sergey Gritsay. But the most dramatic choreographic moment for me came toward the end of the opera when Andrei rises from his deathbed to begin a final waltz with Natasha and after a few steps, collapses at her feet.

Prokofiev's music rises to stirring heights in the patriotic choruses of Part Two. But it fails to rise to the occasion in the scenes between Andrei and Natasha. There are no soaring romantic melodies. The program describes the work as an "Opera in Thirteen Lyrico-dramatic Scenes and a Choral Epigraph." The evening began on time at 7:30 and ended at about 11:50. There was one intermission. I felt that about half an hour could have been cut without serious damage, but the fact is I enjoyed almost every minute.

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I'm going to the final performance.

One intermission? Dear God!

Since the Met doesn't let you bring bags to your seat anymore, I'm going to have to wear a coat with a lot of pockets for smuggling in provisions. I'm going to have to stock up on jellybeans and caffeine mints.

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Wow. What a spectacular show!

As much as I thought Hvorostovsky's Andrei was brilliant, and Anna Netrebko's Natasha was beautiful and beguiling, the highest points of this opera, for me, had to be Sam Ramey's two stirring arias as Katuzov -- the first when he addresses the Russian army and peasants before the battle of Borodino (I assume that's the battle), and his long meditation on his decision to abandon Moscow to the French.

The action flagged a bit here and there, and I have a few small quibbles with the design, but it was an engrossing and delightful production, especially the second, War, act, so different from the first, Peace, one.

Considering who was running the Soviet Union when Prokofiev wrote this, I found the concluding peans of praise to the Great Leader just a bit disquieting, but only a bit.

I'd certainly see this production again, and Netrebko in anything at all. I'm just not used to seeing slim, long-necked opera singers (she looked gorgeous in those Empire dresses), and when her Natasha reached out her long, white-gloved arm to Andrei, I thought she just had to have had some dance training.

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