Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich ‘appears’ in Netflix’s Diana the Musical and it’s raising many questions

4 October 2021, 22:11

Mstislav Rostropovich in Netflix’s Diana the Musical
Mstislav Rostropovich in Netflix’s Diana the Musical. Picture: Netflix / Twitter

By Kyle Macdonald

Netflix’s much-talked-about musical has hit the screens, and a scene of Bach’s Prelude in C is raising more than a few eyebrows.

Much ink has already been spilled documenting the dubious delights of Diana the Musical – but we wanted to discuss one particular scene.

According to this musical, in the early days of the Prince Charles and Diana on-stage courtship, HRH takes a young Lady Di to a concert: a solo recital by the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. At the concert, Lady Di is thrust into all the formality and expectations of royal life, and wrestles with her own supposed musical impulses.

It’s a spectacular number where there’s a moment of cringe to match every solo Bach sixteenth-note, with gasps from classical musicians audible around the world.

Watch it below and then let us explore this royal fiasco together, as together we dwell in the glory of the rhyme of telethon/Elton John.

  1. Let’s start with all that is wrong about this line

    ‘The Russian plays on and on, like an endless telethon / how I wish that he were Elton John’

    Well. Sure.

  2. The electric cello’s bridge to nowhere

    In true West End style, our straight-laced classical concert becomes an all-dancing disco montage, as the cellist moves to a curiously bridge-less electric cello.

    Rostropovich electric cello
    Rostropovich electric cello. Picture: Netflix / Twitter
  3. The cellist looks nothing like Rostropovich

    1980s Rostropovich is as visually iconic as they come: a mighty bald head, and majestic horn-rimmed spectacles.

    The musical’s cellist has a full head of hair, and looks nothing like our beloved ‘Slava’. It makes for a very odd start.

    Rostropovich in ‘Diana the Musical’
    Rostropovich in ‘Diana the Musical’. Picture: Twitter / Netflix
  4. Bow hold and fingering...

    Our unconvincing Rostropovich gains depth as the number goes on: holding the bow like a cheese knife and working the fingerboard like you're playing a late-night Guitar Hero is not helping the Bach.

    Rostropovich plays cello with his iconic endpin
    Rostropovich plays cello with his iconic endpin. Picture: Getty

Now we’re done nit-picking, let’s get to the real story behind this scene...

The whole thing was actually a wedding gift, from Rostropovich. Interestingly, Charles and Diana did attend a Rostropovich concert, which was offered by the great cellist as a belated wedding gift. On that night at London's Barbican concert hall Diana even wore the same green dress depicted in the musical.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana attend the Barbican after birth of Prince William

Let’s also remember that Diana loved classical music, and it ran deep in her family.

The Princess of Wales' maternal grandmother, Baroness Fermoy, was a talented pianist, and Diana herself played very well. There's even some footage in which she plays an excerpt from Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, while on a tour to Australia (watch below).

She also counted Luciano Pavarotti among her closest friends.

Watch Princess Diana casually sit at a piano and play Rachmaninov

We're sure nights of long, formal royal engagements would have been trying for the young Diana. But there's every indication that she would have probably enjoyed that recital from Rostropovich.

The whole classical music is old and boring thing, is just a bit tired isn't it?