Opera Daily 🎶 — Queen Elizabeth II, Sydney Opera House, War and Peace
This week's Opera Daily features Queen Elizabeth II's opening of the Sydney Opera House and Prokofiev’s War and Peace
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The Queen officially opened the Sydney Opera House in 1973.
I was texting my friend Sue in London yesterday, and she said, “end of an era here in the UK. New Prime Minister and New King in one week!”
This week reminded me how important Queen Elizabeth II was as a person.
She saw 17 Prime Ministers; she met 13 of the last 14 US Presidents.
She witnessed the history of the world—the modern world being made in front of her. Even if you disagree with monarchies, it’s hard to dispute her public service and unwavering diligence over her 70 years of service. And her stoicism—she dedicated her entire life to public service and lived it totally neutrally. That’s hard to come by these days.
I thought today we would focus on The Queen’s opening of the Sydney Opera House and Prokofiev’s War and Peace—the first official operatic performance in the theater.
The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails, and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace.
— Queen Elizabeth II
The first official operatic performance in the Opera Theatre was Prokofiev’s War and Peace on September 28, 1973. The live recording is not great (a buzzing sound is present throughout), and this comment on YouTube tells us why:
This video is of great historical interest because it was the first opera performed at the newly completed Sydney Opera House. Staged by The Australian Opera on September, 28 1973, Prokofiev's War and Peace was directed by Sam Wanamaker, who later became the driving force behind the recreation of London’s Globe Theatre. Conducted by Edward Downes, War and Peace was recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC-TV), and subsequently screened in Australia and the UK.
Unfortunately, with most ABC recordings from that era, the official recording was destroyed because of ABC’s policy of re-recording over the tapes to save money...if it were not for private individuals who had the recordings on their home VHS cassette tapes, we would not be watching this...
Prokofiev’s War and Peace—a summary
The opera is split into two parts, Peace and War. The first half focuses on the relationship between Andrei and Natasha (the object of affection for several men, including Anatole). Though engaged to Andrei, Natasha agrees to hear Anatole’s declaration of love. However, she finds out that he is married. Pierre, the father of Andrei, promises to try and talk Andrei into forgiving her. The news comes of Napoleon invading Russia.
The War section of the opera follows the Russian forces attempting to defeat Napoleon. Andrei, wounded, reunites with Natasha. They declare their love for one another, and Andrei dies. Eventually, the Russian people celebrate their victory over Napoleon.
I am including the full opera below, but if you want a quick soundbite, it’s worth listening to the opening that features the two lovers, Andrei and Natasha.
🎧 Listening Example: American actor and director Sam Wanamaker directs the production at The Sydney Opera House, September 1973, conducted by Ted Downes. The singers include Australian Soprano Eilene Hannan as Natasha, Australian Baritone Tom McDonnell as Andrei, Australian Baritone Raymond Myers as Napoleon, and Australian Bass-baritone Neil Warren-Smith as Kutuzov.
I’ve included another recording below of the opening scene with the alternate cast for their production of Prokofiev’s War and Peace. In this scene, Joan Carden and John Pringle, appear as Natasha Rostova and Prince Andrei Bolkonsky with orchestra conducted by Mark Elder, November 1973.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to hit reply with feedback. I would love to hear from you.
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Britain’s greatest classical singer of the 20th century, Dame Janet Baker
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