Eugene Onegin in Bilbao

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Szeged, Coro de Ópera de Bilbao. Conductor: Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez. Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao. 9.4.2011 (JMI)

New Production by  ABAO (Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera), co-produced with Posznam Teatr Wielki, Cracow Opera and Teatro Argentino de La Plata.

Direction: Michal Znaniecki
Sets: Luigi Scoglio
Costumes: Michal Znaniecki
Lighting: Bogumil Palewicz
Choreography: Diana Theocharidis

Onegin: Scott Hendricks
Tatyana: Ainhoa Arteta
Lenski: Ismael Jordi
Gremin: Stanislav Shvets
Olga: Irina Zythynska
Larina: Annie Vavrille
Filipievna: Nadine Weismmann
Mr. Triquet: Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Zaretski: Fernando Latorre

Ainhoa Arteta as Tatyana – Picture © E. Moreno Esquibel

When ABAO programed this opera for the first time in 1984, it was almost unknown. Just 27 years later Eugene Onegin is among the most popular operas. This season alone we were able to see it at Madrid’s Teatro Real and in Valencia last January. In the last 4 years there have been more Oneguins than Traviatas in Spain. So much about the claim that the opera repertoire never changes (anymore). As Galileo said: “And she does move.”

ABAO’s new production premiered at La Plata last month. Polish director Michal Znaniecki has become a regular in Bilbao in the last years, with some uneven results. This time he delivered an attractive production with sets of metal panels around on stage, through the big holes of which one could watch the mass scenes at the back end of the stage. The attractive costumes, mostly in grey for the chorus, were particularly interesting for their ghostly atmosphere in the final act. Excellent lighting and a well suited choreography complemented the excellent stage work.

Znaniecki’s direction focuses on the symbolism of the changes happening to Onegin during the opera: A first act with trees still ice-covered, ice that melts in the second act, and fills the stage as water – the true protagonist in the last act. The actors and chorus scenes are well directed; so much that this can probably be considered this season’s best production in Bilbao. Znanieck was very respectful to the singers (always great news) and both Lenski and Prince Gremin got to sing their respective arias at the very front of the stage.

The experienced Spanish conductor Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez made his debut in opera in Bilbao. Despite being one of the few Spanish conductors with a long-standing experience in many of the top opera houses in the world, he is completely ignored by the top opera houses in Spain. His reading was quite remarkable, showing that he has a perfect knowledge of the score and that he knows his job as maestro concertatore, always at the service of the singers on stage, whose voices were never covered by the orchestra, which might have happened easily, given the size of some of the voices.  He offered an excellent direction, with some small problems of coordination in the first scene. The orchestra from Szeged returned to Bilbao after 5 years and they were a solid group, better than what we usually get from our local orchestras.

American baritone Scott Hendricks was a good Onegin, with a voice well suited to the character, although he didn’t shine particularly. His voice tends not to leave the stage, which happened all too often in this big house. When he acts his way to the front of the stage (being the good singing actor he is), this particular problem is overcome.

Ainhoa ​​Arteta was a great Tatyana. The vocal evolution of this artist is particularly interesting. Today she is in a magnificent vocal state. A light soprano just some years ago, and more recent a light-lyric soprano, she has now developed a full lyric instrument, very attractive in timbre, quite homogeneous throughout the whole range, and with a remarkable size. She has always been an excellent actress, so no wonder that today she is one of today’s best possible Tatyanas.

Ismael Jordi is a light tenor, and rather too short for the character of Vladimir Lenski. Lenski’s aria can be worth the whole opera, though, and Jordi delivered it beautifully. His Lenski was sensitive and played with exquisite taste.

Stanislav Shvets did not meet the demands of Prince Gremin. This character is not too relevant on stage, but Tchaikovski wrote for him one of the most beautiful arias ever written for a bass, quite demanding on both ends of the range. This production and the audience deserved something better.

In the secondary characters Polish mezzo Irina Zhytynska was a  good  Olga, somewhat short of volume. Mikeldi Atxalandabaso was a luxury as Monsieur Triquet. Both Annie Vavrille (Larina) and Nadine Weissmann (Filipievna) were good in their roles.

The Euskalduna offered a full house and the audience was very receptive during the performance. The final reception was very warm, with sonorous cheers for Ismael Jordi and Ainhoa ​​Arteta. Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez and Michal Znaniecki and his team had an excellent reception.

José Mª Irurzun