Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien Triumph in Eugene Onegin

GermanyGermany  Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Bayerische Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus, Leo Hussain (conductor), Nationaltheater, Munich, 26.7.2015 (JMI).

 Munich Trovatore Photo Credit: Wielfried Hösl
Munich Trovatore
Photo Credit: Wielfried Hösl

Onegin: Mariusz Kwiecien
Tatyana: Anna Netrebko
Lenski: Pavol Breslik
Gremin/Saretski: Günther Groissböck
Olga: Alisa Kolosova
Larina: Heike Grötzinger
Filipievna: Elena Zilio
Triquet: Ulrich Ress

Production: Bayerische Staatsoper
Direction: Krzysztof Warlikowski
Sets and Costumes: Malgorzata Szczeniak
Lighting: Felice Ross

Last night, I left the theatre quite happy. Thanks to two exceptional artists, emotion, that rare ingredient so necessary in opera, was present in a final scene worth remembering for a long time to come. Things worked better in musical terms than they had the day before, but the staging is no more than a whim of the director: you would miss nothing if you sat with your eyes closed for much of the opera.

This Krzysztof Warlikowski production premiered here in October 2007 and received a sonorous booing. The minimalist stage features a large room where props like beds and chairs are added for the different scenes. The action has been brought up to modern times, specifically to 1969, and Warlikowski’s staging, which focuses on the supposed homosexuality of Onegin and Lenski, just becomes boring. In the first scene we are in Larina’s house, where there is a celebration with some kind of karaoke, and the men play pool in the next room. The scene in Tatyana’s bedroom is achieved simply by darkening the stage. For the sake of a supposed modernity, the writing of the letter is changed to a tape recording. The party for Tatyana includes a striptease by a group of boys. But up to here we just have a modern production, and it’s not particularly objectionable.

But from the duel scene, Warlikowski makes his own show. The so-called duel is not really one. Rather, the scene takes place in a motel room with Lenski and Onegin in bed, and the two men are upset. Lenski finally decides to go for his friend, who is stripping off his shirt, but when Lenski starts to take off his pants, Onegin shoots him. From then on we are in a sort of madhouse, where Onegin appears to be suffering from hallucinations. In Act III, the famous Polonaise becomes a parade of  transvestites, while the chorus sings offstage. The final scene takes place with Onegin and Tatyana on the bed.

The musical direction was in the hands of Leo Hussain, whose reading seemed to me remarkably better than what we heard in Lucia di Lammermoor the day before. His conducting was delicate, nuanced and very careful during the first part of the opera, roughly until the end of Act II. In the last act the opera becomes quite dramatic, and I missed more emotion. What Mr. Hussain never did was cover the singers on stage. Once again we could enjoy the talents of the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and of the chorus.

The cast offered two exceptional singers in the main roles, and the result was outstanding. Rarely have I witnessed a scene so full of emotion as the final one of this opera.

The title character was sung by Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who gave a convincing performance throughout the entire opera, and particularly in the last two scenes. His voice is well-suited to the character and very well handled, and he is a remarkable stage performer. Few, if any, can be compared with him in the role today.

Anna Netrebko as Tatyana was undoubtedly the real focus of attention. Seldom in the history of opera has there been such a combination of a beautiful voice and exceptional acting, together with an attractive stage presence and an undeniable magnetism. In this world nothing is given for free, and it’s not a coincidence that the Russian soprano is where she is.

It has often been written that two different sopranos are needed for Vloleta. This argument is not usually used in the case of Tatyana, but the truth is that there are two completely different aspects of the character, from the dreamy girl of the first two acts to the woman aware of her status and responsibility in Act III. Anna Netrebko was unbeatable as the mature Tatyana, and at her very best in the final scene  ̶  simply fascinating. I cannot say the same about her young Tatyana, where she was not equally convincing, although she shone in the famous scene of the letter.

Lenski was played by Pavol Breslik who replaced Alexey Dolgov. All opera lovers know that the key moment for this character is “Kuda, Kuda,” the famous aria that precedes the duel. This beautiful aria demands a great singer, and Breslik was excellent, as one would expect from him. I do think he lacked vocal weight at some moments, especially in the ensemble that closes the party at Larina’s house.

In this production, surprisingly, the interpreter of Prince Gremin doubles as the episodic character of Saretsky. Both roles were played by Günther Groissböck, a luxury as Saretsky but somewhat light in Gremin’s aria. The character requires a true bass, and Groissböck, although a superb singer, is a bass-baritone.

Alisa Kolosova was fine in the part of Olga. Madame Larina was played by Heike Grötzinger, who was somewhat shrill, while Elena Zilio did well as Filipievna. Ulrich Ress left something to be desired in the couplets of Triquet.

The Nationaltheater was packed, and there was significant demand for tickets around the house. The audience was very pleased with the result of the performance and dedicated an unquestionable triumph to Anna Netrebko, with almost as much applause for Mariusz Krwiecien. The group of transvestites was soundly booed after the famous Polonaise.

José M. Irurzun


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