Rooting for Prokofiev at the Oscars

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Updated Monday 7:23 AM: And the Oscar goes to Peter and the Wolf!

It’s Oscar night, a holiday I don’t generally observe except while flipping channels during commercial breaks of other shows, but one intriguing nominee caught my eye this year.

Suzie Templeton’s stop-motion retelling of Prokofiev’s 1936 work Peter and the Wolf is nominated in the Animated Short Film category. Mark Stephenson conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra, but this version dispenses with the traditional celebrity narrator and tells the story entirely with music and imagery — this time, set in a somewhat grim, modern-day urban Russia rather than the canonical bucolic setting. Also unusual is the use of long silences, rather than a continuous performance.

Watch the Oscar-nominated Peter and the Wolf Animated Short Film

Watch the entire 29-minute Peter and the Wolf film here. (Adobe Flash is required.) Breakthru Films also features a “Making Of Peter and the Wolf” featurette.

The movie’s official website (http://www.breakthrufilms.co.uk/peterandthewolffilm/index2.html) includes a synopsis, reviews, and a trailer.

I’ve known Peter and the Wolf for as long as I can remember, and have taken it for granted as one of the really popular works of one of my favorite composers, so when I checked just one source, the English Wikipedia entry, I was (foolishly) surprised to find out how popular it’s been. Seems like just about everyone has conducted it, and this latest film is in a long line of different kinds of adaptations.

A very incomplete list of English-language narrators on recorded performances includes Leonard Bernstein, David Bowie, Sean Connery, John De Lancy, Dom DeLuise, Dame Edna, Jose Ferrer, Jon Gielgud, Hermione Gingold,  Alec Guinness, Melissa Joan Hart, Boris Karloff, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), Christopher Lee, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Dudley Moore, Itzhak Perlman, André Previn, Ralph Richardson,  Patrick Stewart, and Sting.

Even Prokofiev family members have lent their vocal talents to English recordings: the composer’s first wife, mezzo Lina Prokofieva (credited as Lina Prokofiev) on the Chandos Neemi Jarvi recording, son Oleg Prokofiev (a sculptor) & grandson Gabriel Prokofiev (an actor and musician) on the Hyperion recording under Ronald Corp.

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Comedic retellings have been done by Peter Shickele (“Sneeky Pete and the Wolf”), Weird Al Yankovic and NPR’s “All Things Considered” (a “You Are There” style developing news treatment). Many American children already know the wolf’s brass theme as the leitmotiv for schoolyard bully Scut Farkus in the holiday favorite “A Christmas Story.”

In the tradition of Wicked (the book and musical defending the witchs’ side of the Wizard of Oz story), Peter and the Wolf has even been retold from the wolf’s point of view in The Wolf and Peter by Jean-Pascal Beintus (narrated by Bill Clinton on the Russian National Orchestra’s Peter and the Wolf/Wolf Tracks album). 

Listen to Peter and the Wolf free on your computer

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