Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky will always hold a sentimental place with me. Back in the 80’s my mom worked at the Cleveland Foundation and was always able to score tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra. My friend Dave, who is currently playing in the Orchestra down in New Orleans, would always accompany me to these concerts. Blossom, box seats, dress circle, two new wave-ish teenagers I bet we were a sight to see. I am sure we got more than a couple second glances even from the ushers.
They often will play this piece along with the 1938 Classic film, of the same title. I remember thinking how absolutely cool was this watching this movie with the Cleveland Orchestra playing live in front of that giant screen.
The film contains elements of obvious allegory that reflect the political situation between the two countries at the time of production. Some types of helmets worn by the Teutonic infantry resemble mock-ups of Stahlhelms from World War I. In the first draft of the Alexander Nevsky script, swastikas even appeared on the invaders’ helmets. The film portrays Alexander as a folk hero and shows him bypassing a fight with the Mongols, his old foes, in order to face the more dangerous enemy.
The film also conveys highly anti-clerical and anti-Catholic messages. The knights’ bishop’s miter is adorned with swastikas, while religion plays a minor role on the Russian side, being present mostly as a backdrop in the form of Novgorod’s St. Nicholas Cathedral and the clerics with their icons during the victorious entry of Nevsky into the city after the battle.
I have a couple versions of this classical masterpiece of vinyl. The one I am listening to today is a promo copy on the Deutsche Grammophon label from 1980 put out in Germany. It features Soviet and Russian opera singer (mezzo-soprano), actress, opera director, teacher, professor; Elena Obraztsova. Claudio Abbado is conducting The London Symphony Chorus And Orchestra. He was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1979 to 1987. In the US, he was principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1986.