`Nevsky' film with live music. Two partly lost Russian classics have been restored for American audiences. One, Eisenstein's 1938 film epic, `Alexander Nevsky,' has a new print and a symphonic re-construction of the missing Prokofiev score. The other, Nijinsky's 1913 ballet, `Le Sacre du Printemps,'' lost for 75 years, has been painstakingly re-created from surviving clues.
The movie critics went out of their way to praise the grand music score of the spectacular, wide-screen epic. At the same time, music critics expanded their reviews to praise the stunning black-and-silver images and the famous battle scenes. Everybody wanted a piece of ``Alexander Nevsky'' here last week - not least the one-time-benefit audience, which jammed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.Skip to next paragraph
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It was a wedding of sorts - the epic, 1938 cinematic masterpiece by Sergei Eisenstein with the score written by Sergei Prokofiev, played live by the Los Angeles Philharmonic beneath a screen flanked by the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Until now, the score had been a tinny, truncated, and scarcely audible background, not up to the grand drama played out on the screen.
The resurrected score was touted as the sort of aural equivalent of colorization.
Nearly everyone agreed that the evening, sponsored with great hoopla by American Telephone & Telegraph, was a great success.
Any argument there was came over why it was here for only one night, and why it is scheduled for only two similar one-nighters in Cleveland (Nov. 22) and Washington (date to be announced).
But there was no argument as to the successful combining of sight and sound. The 108-minute film - in 1938 considered one of the first great attempts at uniting images and music - had suffered rough cutting in a last-minute scramble for approval from Stalin. It was produced under the scrutinyof the Soviet political apparatus.
Prokofiev later reconstructed parts of the score, which came to be known as the ``Alexander Nevsky Cantata,'' but the small studio orchestra used for the film sound track has never been considered satisfactory by those who wanted musical grandeur to equal the film narrative.
Regarded as Eisenstein's most ambitious work, the film follows one of the great stories in Russian history, a peasant army's triumph over marauding Teutonic knights in the 13th century. The film became one of Stalin's favorites because of its parallels to the threat from Hitler.
John Goberman, an Emmy Award-winning producer of public television's ``Live From Lincoln Center,'' and William D. Brohn, a noted arranger of Broadway shows, orchestrated a new score, taken from the movie track itself, since no manuscript exists.
The orchestration not only had to be expanded but painstakingly synchronized in live performance with the running images. To facilitate this, Andr'e Previn, the Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor, had a small video monitor on his podium.
Though the audience was packed with cinemagoers mainly interested in seeing the new print of ``Alexander Nevsky,'' made from the original nitrite film and projected, with subtitles, on the 50-foot screen, it was the music that drew the applause. Besides the 104 players of the Philharmonic, the 130 singers of the Master Chorale performed with mezzo-soprano soloist Christine Cairns.
If there were any complaints, it was that the singers were almost too smooth, not soulful enough. Perhaps only a Russian chorus twice the size could have mustered the patriotic Angst worthy of a propaganda film this strong.
The message in 1938 was clear: Germany, keep your hands off Russia. Or, as Prince Alexander says at the movie's finale: ``Go home and tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives.''