A Fine Eugene Onegin in HD from The Met

United StatesUnited States Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin: Soloists, The Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra / Valery Gergiev (conductor). The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD,  5.10.2013. (RB)

Cast in order of appearance:
Tatiana – Anna Netrebko
Olga – Oksana Volkova
Madama Larina – Elena Zaremba
Filippyevna – Larissa Diadkova
Lenski – Piotr Beczala
Eugene Onegin – Mariusz Kwiecien
A captain – David Crawford
Triquet – John Graham-Hall
Zarestski – Richard Bernstein
Prince Gremin – Alexei Tanovikski

Conductor – Valery Gergiev
Production – Deborah Warner
Director – Fiona Shaw
Set Designer – Tom Pye
Costume Designer – Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer – Jean Kalman
Video Designers – Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer – Kim Brandstrup

Live in HD Host – Deborah Voigt

Tchaikovsky’s opera is a set of seven lyrical scenes depicting dramatic events in the life of the two couples around whom much of the dramatic action revolves:  there is no continuous plot development, but rather selected highlights in Onegin’s life (a technique also found in La bohème).  The libretto uses much of Pushkin’s original poetry and it focuses on character development, giving us fascinating insights into the lives and motivations of the four main characters.  Tchaikovsky’s music was originally written for students at the Moscow Conservatory and is relatively simple but it is also intensely lyrical and has an emotional directness and honesty.

Deborah Warner’s production is set in the Russia of the 1870’s and uses traditional period sets and costumes throughout. The first Act is based in the Larin country estate and the production opened to reveal a sparsely decorated sunroom with massive windows covered by large blinds.  One of the blinds is raised to reveal the country estate outside and we see Tatiana and her sister Olga singing carefree songs in the garden while their mother, Madame Larina, looks on.  Following the arrival of a group of peasants and orthodox priests who entertain us with some fairly acrobatic dance numbers, Lenski arrives with Onegin.  Netrebko and Kwiecien almost underplayed the opening scene:  she was keen to portray a studious and slightly withdrawn Tatiana while he came across as aloof with a slight whiff of arrogance.  It allowed Volkova and Beczala really to come to the fore.  Volkova was rock solid in her vocal entries and was impressive throughout her vocal range.  She was also very impressive in the recent production of Rigoletto and I think it’s high time she took on more leading roles.  Beczala has a wonderfully sonorous, ringing tenor voice and he soared effortlessly into the upper range to give us the first highlight of the night when he declares his love for Olga.

Netrebko really showed what she could do with the famous ‘letter’ scene where she stays up through the night composing a letter which declares her love for Onegin.  Netrebko is a terrific actress and we first see her with a look of intense concentration working on the letter before throwing open the doors to let in some air and then scribbling madly with her notebook in hand.  She has moved increasingly from bel canto to dramatic roles and she has a wonderfully pure voice and a superb technique.  She has the ability to select different colours to convey the shifting emotions of her character and she moved from smouldering, suppressed feelings to dramatic outpourings of love.  Kwiecien looks the part for Onegin and it is one of his signature roles.  When he pours cold water over Tatiana’s feelings in the next scene, he does so in a cool, aloof way – this is a worldly Russian aristocrat telling a young and naïve country girl what life is like.  He has a rich and full baritone voice and technically he was rock solid throughout.

In the ballroom scene in Act 2, Gergiev successfully kept the orchestra, soloists and chorus on track in the dance and big ensemble numbers.  The dance numbers were well choreographed with Kwiecien and Volkova showing us some nifty footwork as they whirled around the ballroom. Beczala and Kwiecien did a brilliant job in raising the emotional temperature while Gergiev kept a tight grip on all the tempo shifts.  Beczala invested Lenski’s Act 2 aria with a raw emotional pathos and honesty – this singing really came from the heart and I suspect there were very few dry eyes in the house when he had finished.

In Act 3 the scene shifts again and we see vast marble columns and the opulent surroundings of a grand palace in St Petersburg. The famous polonaise which opens the Act was played with gusto and swagger, Gergiev and the orchestra doing an excellent job with the tricky rhythms.  Netrebko did a marvellous job in portraying Tatiana’s transformation from simple country girl to a dazzling and sophisticated aristocrat.  In the final scene we see Netrebko and Kwiecien dressed in Zhivago–style costumes as the snow falls around them.  The final scene is one of the most dramatic in the opera and Netrebko and Kwiecien both gave us highly charged and dramatic singing.  Kwiecien did an excellent job conveying Onegin’s descent from haughty nobleman to ruined, emotional wreak while Netrebko invested Tatiana with all the high breeding necessary for her to get through this final emotional ordeal.

Another great production from the Met – bravo to the Maestro and all the lead performers.

Robert Beattie