Sweden Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Stockholm / Evan Rogister (conductor). Royal Opera House, Stockholm 28.4.2018. (GF)
Direction – Vasily Barkhatov
Sets – Zinovy Margolin
Costumes & Masks – Olga Shaishmelashvili
Lighting design – Alexander Sivaev
Larina – Susann Végh
Tatyana – Cornelia Beskow
Olga – Johanna Rudström
Filippyevna – Katarina Leoson
Lensky – Joel Annmo
Eugene Onegin – Karl-Magnus Fredriksson
Prince Gremin – Lennart Forsén
Monsieur Triquet – Jonas Degerfeldt
Zaretsky – Martin Lissel
Choral soloist – Mikael Fagerholm
The last production of Eugene Onegin in Stockholm was premiered in June 2005, almost 13 years ago. It was directed by the wilful Dmitri Bertman of the Moscow Helicon Opera, who always has fanciful ideas but in that production found an ideal balance between sticking to the original concept and freshening it up with striking new ideas. This latest stab at Tchaikovsky’s evergreen also has a Russian production team and director: Vasily Barkhatov, once Russian opera’s child prodigy but today in his mid30s, also has ambitions to be innovative. In his case, though, I would rather say he is unable to leave things alone. On one level he shares some basic ideas with Bertman, in that his production is relatively timeless and focuses on the restless Onegin’s travels – by train. Both productions are partly set in a railway station with people carrying suitcases. However, he turns the screw a bit tighter: Tatyana’s name-day party is not a ball but rather a wintry outdoor get-together with snowball fights and toboggans going down a slope at the back of the stage. Monsieur Triquet’s normally entertaining couplets become a disgusting harassment of the poor Tatyana and instead of leading to the usual duel, the controversy between Lensky and Onegin triggers a boxing fight between two rivalling groups of villagers, in which Lensky and Onegin accidentally become involved, their aim having been to arrive at an amicable settlement. Lensky then stumbles on the slope and falls to the ground. Dead!
The last act fashionable party is set not in the stateroom but in a railway station restaurant! And Onegin, who does not have an invitation, having just returned after several years abroad, is obliged to gate-crash. Much of this is ingenious and entertaining the first time, but when repeated it becomes mannered. It also seems that Barkhatov spent so much energy on this façade that he was obliged to leave the singers to their own devices when it came to working out their characters. I felt several times that the chemistry between the performers was insufficient.
This is not to say that there was a lack of drama in the central scenes – on the contrary, there were highly charged confrontations between Tatyana and Onegin, in particular in the final scene, as well as in the Lensky – Onegin conflict. Where Barkhatov is truly successful in the choral the scenes. More than in any other production of this opera, he has the chorus play a central role, even when it is heard from off-stage.
Young and quickly ascending conductor Evan Rogister, having this season made his debut at both Metropolitan and Bolshoi, has a relatively robust attitude to Tchaikovsky’s music, which was quite refreshing. Occasionally he might have held back a little – there were moments when the soloists were overshadowed by the orchestra – but all in all this was a real musical treat.
This also applies to the solo singing. Three of the singers from the previous premiere were heard again here: Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (Onegin), Lennart Forsén (Gremin) and Jonas Degerfeldt, who sang Lensky 13 years ago and now the role of Monsieur Triquet. His costume was congenial, and he sang the role with relish, though I imagine he may not have relished having to act out the painful harassment of Tatyana. Fredriksson was superb, both vocally and as a very expressive actor; his deep involvement in the final scene was devastating. Lennart Forsén was too far in the background visually – behind the restaurant utensils that is – and his lowest notes were hard to discern behind the orchestra, but he sang his beautiful aria with great warmth. Susann Végh and Katarina Leoson as Larina and Filippyevna did their best with their rather ungrateful roles but Johanna Rudström, whose Cenerentola last November was a triumph, was a lively Olga, dressed in tulle throughout the performance (perhaps not the most appropriate outfit for tobogganing). As Tatyana, Cornelia Beskow developed impressively from the shy, introverted seventeen-year-old to the fashionable upper-class lady in the last act. Her letter scene in the first act, sensitively sung and acted and was greeted with ovations, as was Joel Annmo for his singing of Lensky’s famous aria. Rarely have I heard it performed with such restraint and inwardness, partly with his back turned towards the auditorium. Magical!
Toboggan enthusiasts will adore this production but others will find much to admire as well.