2001, London ENO, War and Peace

War and Peace

“Simon Keenlyside is a wonderful Andrei, the perfect, reserved opposite to John Graham-Hall’s venal Anatole”. The Independent on Sunday

“Simon Keenlyside made a vocally and physically handsome Andrei, phrasing his lovely opening aria with a lieder singer’s sensitivity”. Daily Telegraph

Composer : Sergey Prokofiev
Librettist : Prokofiev and M Mendelson after Tolstoy’s novel of 1869
Venue and Dates : The ENO at The Coliseum, London.
27 October, 1, 3, 6, 9, 15, 17, 22, 24, 28 November 2001
Conductor : Paul Daniel
Director : Tim Albery
Sets : Hildegard Bechtler
Costumes : Ana Jebens
Performers :

Prince Andrei Bolkonsky : Simon Keenlyside
Pierre Bezukhov : John Daszak
Natasha : Sandra Zeltzer
Anatole Kuragin : John Graham-Hall
Field Marshal Kotuzov : Willard W White
Sonya : Stephanie Marshall
Akhrosimova (Natasha’s godmother) : Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Prince Nicolai Bolkonsky/General Bennigsen : Gwynne Howell
Napoleon : Peter Sidhom
Hélène : Susan Parry
Marya : Rebecca de Pont Davies
ADC to Murat : Jacqueline Varsey

Notes : Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 24 Nov 2001


An interview with Paul Daniel published the day before the premiere of ENO’s War and Peace. Michael Church for The Independent, 25 October 2001


“Susan Chilcott’s Natasha may be off the bill, owing to the singer’s recently discovered cancer, but we still have a formidable cast led by Simon Keenlyside, John Daszak, and, in the key role of Kutuzov, Willard White.”


Andrew Clements for The Guardian, Monday October 29, 2001

Rating 3 stars

All that said, Albery, Daniel and their singers do this intractable piece proud. Hildegard Bechtler provides spare, evocative sets that make considerable use of photographs and brief snatches of newsreel. The costumes set the main action firmly at the beginning of the 19th century, but the other images suggest its pertinence to the Russian predicament in 1941. Albery characteristically conveys what narrative there is with great lucidity and Daniel maintains continuity even when the musical tension falters. Every member of the cast makes their contribution count. Sandra Zeltzer is Natasha, Simon Keenlyside a dashing, haunted Andrei; John Daszak conveys Pierre’s moral ambivalence well, and Willard W White is a dominating Field Marshal Kotuzov. An admirable, massive effort, wasted on a sprawling, toothless work.


Helen Wright for musicomh.com


Simon Keenlyside as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who woos but then loses Natasha only to find her again as he is dying on the battlefield, was simply astonishing. His voice is that most beautiful of things, a clear and unforced baritone, and coupled with perfect diction (literally every word was clear), a highly expressive face and suitably handsome figure he brought Andrei to life as if made for the part. I have rarely heard more beautiful singing.

You’ll suffer – but it’s worth it

Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday, 4 November 2001


“For all the brilliance of the first performance, this is a show that will benefit from repetition. Certain scenes need more elastic, less urgency, a little more space to allow the singers to find some glow in Prokofiev’s un-lyrical lines. Of the supporting cast, Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Akhrosimova), Susan Parry (Hélène), Rebecca de Pont Davies (Marya), and Jacqueline Varsey (ADC to Murat), stand out for clarity and character. John Daszak (Pierre) again proves his dramatic sensitivity as Pierre. Willard White’s role as Kutuzov makes little demand on his acting but exploits his burnished tones to the full. Simon Keenlyside is a wonderful Andrei, the perfect, reserved opposite to John Graham-Hall’s venal Anatole. And though French soprano Sandra Zeltzer (Natasha) suffers most from the Coliseum’s lack of surtitles, she successfully conveys extreme youth and vulnerability.

Urging readers to go to productions isn’t a responsibility to take lightly. In this case, it’s particularly difficult. War and Peace is a long, frustrating work and purists will be enraged by Albery’s transposition of the Epigraph. But for anyone curious about the seemingly impossible task of making an awkward opera into strong theatre – let alone the effort of mobilising 58 characters and a chorus around a stage – this production is a must-see. Don’t expect to be soothed or moved in that easy bel canto way. Expect to be fascinated and challenged.”


Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2001


“…for all its sudden relevance, I cannot share the general view that this opera ranks as one of the masterpieces of the mid-20th century. Compared with the contemporary Peter Grimes or Dialogues des Carmélites, it lacks emotional focus or depth: Andrei and Natasha are only novelettish figures, and Pierre scarcely registers. Its structure is episodic and broken-backed, with a drag at the end of part one (“Peace”) and an excess of musical sabre-rattling in part two (“War”). The note of bellicose triumphalism is sounded just too loud and too often: you couldn’t say that of Boris Godunov or Don Carlos, operas that also dramatise the interweaving of personal and national destinies.

And finally, it doesn’t measure up to the novel: truly great operas can use music to transform and even enlarge major literary works (as Berg did with Wozzeck, for example), but Prokofiev’s War and Peace seems at bottom little more than a skilful strip-cartoon reduction of favourite scenes from Tolstoy’s novel.

Whatever its shortcomings, however, War and Peace is a marvellous showpiece for an operatic ensemble. It requires no stars, but contains a plethora of small roles and plenty for chorus and orchestra to get their teeth into.”

“Admittedly, Prokofiev offers the principals nothing particularly challenging or striking, but Simon Keenlyside made a vocally and physically handsome Andrei, phrasing his lovely opening aria with a lieder singer’s sensitivity. Sandra Zeltzer had a brave stab at Natasha, but as she tried too hard, her intonation became more approximate and consonants clouded over. John Daszak’s Pierre was adequate, Willard White’s Kutuzov potent.

“The performance as a whole radiated splendid confidence and enthusiasm – ENO approaching its best.”

Richard Fairman, Financial Times

“Simon Keenlyside makes an ideal Prince Andrei, youthfully middle-aged, stable but romantic, and he sings the role splendidly, especially in the moving death scene.”

Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph

“Simon Keenlyside brought an exquisite lieder-like legato line to Andrei’s music. He is the most poetic of our baritones.”

English National Opera gives an exhilarating and engaging performance of this epic tale.

Hugh Canning for Andante.com


“Simon Keenlyside’s anguished romantic Andrei, Willard White’s charismatic Kutuzov and John Daszak’s keenly characterised Pierre were at least the equals of their predecessors in this theater…”

“Prokofiev was done proud.”

Songs in the key of strife

Edward Seckerson for The Independent, 31 October 2001


“That unfulfilled romance between Natasha and Andrei is, of course, at the crux of the opera. Sandra Zeltzer (sounding remarkably Slav) and Simon Keenlyside ardently voice its promise. But in a remarkable theatrical coup, their belated re-union, when Natasha secretly seeks out the fatally wounded Andrei (and Keenlyside is at his most impressive here), is seen from his viewpoint, the end of a long delusion. “He died in her arms”, Pierre is told later. But Albery has Natasha walk away before Andrei takes his last breath as if to say that politics and society tore them apart long before death did. A stunning moment which speaks volumes.”

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