BWW Reviews: PRINCE IGOR, London Coliseum, April 1 2014

BWW Reviews: PRINCE IGOR, London Coliseum, April 1 2014

The word "epic" is derived from Ancient Greek via Latin, but it really should come from Russian - just ponder the vastness, the history, even the National Anthem! Nobody does epic like Russia.

So when Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow's massed ranks of singers and musicians rolled into the London Coliseum to perform Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor (left in an unfinished form after 18 years in the making and based on an Old Russian Epic Poem), we might have expected a bit of epic. And, boy, did we get a bit of epic!

With a little help from his friends, Borodin's only opera was knocked into shape and first performed in 1890, some three years after the composer's untimely death after a remarkable life. It hasn't been performed as a full opera in the UK since 1990, partly as a result of the absence of a definitive version. But those twists and turns are hardly noticeable, as the we're swept away by an extraordinary tale of love and loyalty, honour and dishonour, war and er... peace.

With Russia invaded by Turkic tribes, Prince Igor sets off to vanquish his foe for country and faith, but is captured and placed under palace arrest (a luxurious form of house arrest) by Konchak Khan. Igor may sup his wine with a curled lip, but his son finds matters more to his liking, falling in love with the Khan's daughter Konchakovna - and who wouldn't! Meanwhile, back at home, Igor's wife, pining for her noble husband, has to deal with her ignoble brother's debauchery, as he turns the country into an endless night on the booze - much to the peasants' delight.

Sung in Russian with surtitles, the surging music and the emotional power of the singers tells us all we need to know to follow the story. The emotions flood through the auditorium, the pain and pleasure conveyed at a visceral level - if you wonder why people pay the prices they do for opera, you don't after seeing this production. Topping the lot is the celebrated Polovtsian Dances, a setpiece that includes melodies familiar from the musical Kismet and fabulous scenes of revelry and reverence. Even that spectacle is trumped by the deeply moving epilogue, in which we discover what had happened in Russia while Igor was held by the Khan.

The Novaya Opera Theatre, Moscow's Prince Igor continues at The London Coliseum until April 5. Tickets are not cheap, but you can see where every pound has been spent. This is an epic delivered with passion and panache - surely everyone should see something like this at least once in a lifetime? Else, as Igor contemplated more than once during his travails, what is life for?

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Gary Naylor Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre.

He writes about cricket at and also for The Guardian, Spin Cricket and Channel Five and commentates at His writing on films and other subjects is at

Comments are always welcome.


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