WAR AND PEACE - Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Welsh National Opera's production of Prokofiev's War and Peace is a huge testimony to the strength of WNO as a company theatre of the highest order. Its squad of principals multi-casts dazzlingly, its production team achieves wonders of stage-craft, its orchestra (despite one blip during the performance I heard) delivers this wonderful, multi-coloured score with a total sense of unanimous commitment, and the chorus is, as ever, magnificent.

And what choruses these are, surging with a patriotic devotion to Mother Russia that could easily be equated with Welshness here in the Principality. At times we are reminded of the protectionist fervour of Wagner's Mastersingers, and indeed, the saviour, Field-Marshal Kutusov (the heartwarming Simon Bailey, who also multicasts as one of Napoleon's nasties) is accoladed like Hans Sachs in that opera.

Another triumph of multicasting comes with David Stout's Napoleon, emerging from several other roles with make-up brilliantly applied, and chillingly real as the ambitious warrior-emperor who already envisages his ultimate defeat.

The chief characters in Tolstoy's epic novel (what a contrast with Thackeray's chattery Vanity Fair set in the same period) are of course singly cast: Jonathan McGovern as a sympathetic Andrei, Lauren Michelle as a sweetly appealing Natasha, and Mark Le Brocq bringing eloquent body-language to the central role of Pierre (is he a presage of the Tolstoy we see scribbling at his manuscript right at the beginning of the opera?).

Tomas Hanus paces the score (such resonances of Prokofiev's ballets, symphonies and films) judiciously, and David Pountney's direction brings impact after impact, especially through its resource to back-drop footage from the stunning 1966 Bondarchuk film of War and Peace.

Robert Innes Hopkins' set designs are witty and resourceful, as are Marie-Jeanne Lecca's costumings. The English translation is well-surtitled, but sits occasionally artificially upon the music. No matter: WNO's War and Peace is an experience not to be forgotten.

Christopher Morley

* At Birmingham Hippodrome November 17 (6.30pm). Running-time 4 hours.

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