This is a reissue of a no-longer available (except from Amazon's associated vendors who are asking a huge price) 2DVD set from TDK of the 2000 Paris Opéra production of Prokofiev's 'War and Peace'. There are beaucoup customer reviews of the production at that DVD's site here at Amazon and I'd suggest you might read them by clicking on this link: Prokofiev - War and Peace / Bertini, Gunn, Kit, Mamsirova, Gouriakova, Brubaker, Paris Opera. As far as I can tell this reissue is identical to the earlier release, but is at a far more competitive price.
When the Paris Opéra did 'War and Peace' in 2000 it was, amazingly, the work's first Paris production. Perhaps that's not so surprising since the French are the bad guys in Tolstoy's (and Prokofiev's) 'War and Peace'. Still, the work is one of the truly great operas of the twentieth century. One of the highlights of my own opera-going life was the production at the Metropolitan brought over from the Kirov and conducted by Valery Gergiev. As far as I know that production is not available on DVD (although the Kirov's home production, but with different leads, is available) but if it ever becomes available I'd snap it up. It starred Anna Netrebko, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Gegam Gregorian and Samuel Ramey. This Paris production, though, is very nearly its equal and in fact visually I think it outclasses the Kirov/Met production. The sets, costumes and props are magnificent and in particular the lighting is subtle and psychologically apt. Stage direction by the American Francesca Zambello is fabulous.
The cast, with some exceptions, is not as well-known as the Met cast, but it is certainly first-rate. Olga Guryakova makes a wonderful, girlish Natasha. Hollywood-handsome Nathan Gunn is a stirring and believable Andrei Bolkonsky. His death scene with Natasha is stunningly effective. Robert Brubaker is a stalwart and believable (as well as musical) Pierre Buzukhov. He looks the part of the kind, timid but then brave Pierre, too. Another standout is the General Kutuzov of Anatoly Kotcherga; his monolog in Act II is outstanding.
'War and Peace' is extraordinarily difficult to stage. It requires more than sixty solo singers and a huge chorus that has complicated stage actions to perform. All of them were directed with psychological subtlety by Francesa Zambello. Gary Bertini is a skilled and experienced maestro who somehow keeps all these forces at peak effectiveness. This Paris production is slightly shortened, which for some may be a bit of a blessing, especially in the drawn-out war scenes.
There is an excellent 87-minute documentary, spread over the two DVDs, about 'The Making of "War and Peace".' It adds immeasurably to one's enjoyment of the production.
I would recommend this set without reservation. If and when the Kirov/Met production becomes available -- and who knows if it will -- I'll want it, too, but for now I'm completely satisfied with the Paris production.
I am suspicious to make an comments on Prokoviev works, for I love his music. I think Prokoviev is under evalueted in the so called western world for he was a soviet, even if nearly a prisoner of Stalin. But his music is often used in film, commercials and series, credicted or not. As for 'War and Peace' it's a masterpiece from beginning to end. Some could say it praises war, but it's quite clear that it praises freedom and free will of peoples. Its funny that The Paris Opera has spent so much in the production, considering Napoleon is nearly the vile one in the story. Of course the production has some little alterations, if compared to russian avaiable recordings, where to the 'War' more space was given, and Napoleon appears worse than at La Bastille. But it worths been seen and listened many times. The choral work is marvellous, and the soloists (15!) are mostly good ones, although some voices seem lost in the vast pannel of the story. The US citizen Nathan Gunn is one of the best choices: incrideble voice, and a physique du role perfect for prince Andrej. Although it is sung in russian, a hard language for the western audiences, 'War and Peace' will conquire anyone that wachts it without prejudice
This is one of the best opera productions available on DVD and is a must for any collection. The performances are really strong from all the singers and the staging is very effective, particularly in the way one scene melts seemlessly into the next. When TDK deleted this DVD from their products the DVD price went up to $250, with good reason, get it before it is deleted again.
Perhaps I'm somewhat biased because I loved the book so much, but this opera did not disappoint me at all. In fact, I wish it were a little longer at the end in order to give me a wee bit more of Natasha and Pierre hooking up. But, I guess their final embrace said all we need to know. I love how the two acts were like watching two separate operas, being so different in their approach and purpose. If you love historic operas like I do, this is a must own DVD. But don't forget, this is called War and Peace for a good reason.
Having seen "War and Peace" at the Met many years ago, I was hoping to see a Met version of this opera. That said, I was absolutely impressed with this cast and production. Singing is first rate, particularly the dramatic choruses, and Nathan Gunn--always a fine singing actor. The long opera zips along seamlessly and provides a fascinating glimpse of the period. Highly recommended.