Carsen without Carsen: Onegin in Geneva

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Tchaïkovsky: Eugene Onegin, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Chorus of Geneva’s Grand Théâtre, Alan Woodbridge (Chorus Master), Michail Jurowski (Conductor), Grand Théâtre de Genève, 13.10.2014  (AL)

Eugene Onegin: Michael Nagy
Tatiana: Maija Kovalevska
Olga: Irina Shoshkova
Lenski: Edgaras Montvidas
Prince Gremin: Vitalij Kowaljow
Monsieur Triquet: Raúl Giménez
Filippievna: Stefania Toczyska

Director: Robert Carsen (revived by Paula Suozzi)
Sets: Michael Levine
Costumes: Michael Levine
Lighting: Jean Kalman

Like the earlier Rigoletto, this production is the work of Robert Carsen and was imported from the Met. As with the Canadian director’s view of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites,  it is a minimalist staging with few or no sets but an imaginative use of light and color. A bare stage with autumn leaves suggests the passing of time; the blinding bluish color of the duel underlines Lenski and Onegin’s solitude and despair. Even more striking is the Polonaise which shows a vain and disdainful Onegin preparing for the ball.

But while Carsen’s staging of Rigoletto was full of life and kept us attentive to so many revealing details, something was missing here. The principals were left on a bare, austere stage, and what the Germans call “Personen-Regie,” the ability to deepen characters by stage direction, was not present. The dramatic ending, a music full of intensity and depth, suffered from a lack of direction, and one got the feeling that the singers had been left to themselves.

This perhaps shows the limitation of buying a production from another theater. The original producer may not come for the revival, and something can end up missing. All of us who have seen a work staged by Robert Carsen are aware that the director definitely has ideas and also that he knows how to get singers to act.

This feeling of under-characterization was made more potent by the casting of 4 young singers. They looked their parts, delivered the notes and definitely have potential, but some depth and naturalness were missing. Maija Kovalevska was more at home in the final dramatic confrontation with Onegin, but the sublime letter scene lacked fever and intensity. Irina Shoshkova has a superb voice and probably was the most at ease on stage, but Olga disappears quickly in this work. Her Lenski, tenor Edgaras Montvidas, cut a dramatic presence although he tended to sing forte too often. In the title-role, Michael Nagy was somewhat stiff on stage but has a commanding presence and depth of tone.

The fifth character in this opera is Prince Gremin. Feruccio Furlanetto said that it was one of his favorite parts: at the end, the bass enters, steals the show with one marvelous aria and “gets the girl.” Vitalij Kowaljow, another young singer, did not look the part of an old man but delivered a stunning aria and indeed “stole the show.”

Veteran singers Stefania Toczyska and Raúl Giménez were inspired pieces of casting. Each has retained a powerful voice thanks to strong technique. Both displayed personality and an ease on stage that were missing from their younger colleagues.

In the pit was another veteran, Michail Jurowski, who conducted a strong Love for Three Oranges here three years ago. He delivered a coherent reading. The letter scene fell a bit shy, but overall there was a keen sense of drama, and the Polonaise showed the orchestra at its best. As always, the chorus of the Grand Théâtre was in terrific form; it remains one of the great assets of the Geneva stage.

Robert Carsen is a huge talent, and it is always a pleasure to see his works. In this case, his absence was felt, and he was missed.

Antoine Leboyer

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