Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mariusz Kwiecien as Eugene Onegin and Anna Netrebko as Tatiana [Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
10 Oct 2013

Eugene Onegin disappoints

The company’s new production of the Tchaikovsky masterpiece is cramped and cheap, leaving the listener longing for a return of the 1997 version

The Met’s new production of Eugene Onegin disappoints

A review by David Rubin

Above: Mariusz Kwiecien as Eugene Onegin and Anna Netrebko as Tatiana [Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]

 

The Metropolitan Opera in New York chose to open its 2013-14 season with a new production (in cooperation with the English National Opera) of Tchaikovsky’s most popular vocal work, Eugene Onegin. The production is a drab and claustrophobic affair — one the Met did not need. It was mounted for its star soprano, Anna Netrebko, who proved ill-suited to her role as Tatiana, the teenager who falls in love with the older, caddish Onegin.

The Met’s previous production of Onegin was all light, atmosphere, and swirling leaves. It surged with passion. The largely empty stage afforded the dancers — and among the glories of this score are Tchaikovsky’s dances — with plenty of room to waltz. That previous production translated well both in the opera house and in the HD simulcast relay.

In contrast, the current production is cramped and cheap. The entire first act is played out in some sort of potter’s shed on the Larin estate in Russia. The stage is cut in half horizontally by a faux glass wall, pushing all the action to the front of the stage. Through the glass the audience can see birch trees heavy with green leaves. If only the audience could have been back there, outdoors with the birches.

The second scene of the first act is pivotal to the plot. It should be set in Tatiana Larin’s bedroom, where the feverish girl composes her anguished letter to Onegin confessing her love. Instead, it was played in the same potter’s shed, with Tatiana finally falling asleep on the floor next to a rickety table.

The cramped frame of the shed also serves as the scene for the Act Two party celebrating Tatiana’s name-day. In such a dowdy setting, the famous Waltz that opens this act went for little because there was no waltzing, just some foolish stage business with dancers wearing animal masks.

Not until the duel in the second scene of the act, where Onegin kills his former friend Lenski, does this production begin to rival its predecessor in atmosphere. The despondent Lenski is sitting on a fallen branch of a birch tree, from which position he sings his aria Where or where have you gone, golden days of my youth? The setting is cold, gloomy, and despairing. In short, it fits.

A little grandeur arrives in Act Three when the action moves to a palace in St. Petersburg and Tatiana’s new life with her husband, Prince Gremin. Nine white columns dominate the set, and while they interfere with the dancing required in the score, at least the costumes rise to the dazzling Met standard.

The last scene, in which Onegin admits to Tatiana that he has been a boob and begs her to accept him, should be played inside Tatiana’s residence. Here it is set outside during a St. Petersburg snowstorm. This stage picture would work splendidly for Tchaikovsky’s other great opera, The Queen of Spades, for the scene along the Winter Canal when Liza commits suicide in despair over her gambler boyfriend. But it makes little sense as the finale to Onegin.

At this point I realized that Netrebko should have been singing Liza (in The Queen of Spades), and not Tatiana. Liza is an enigmatic character. The part makes few dramatic demands and it suits her still creamy middle and upper register. But Netrebko is no Tatiana. She doesn’t have the acting chops to become a convincing teenager in puppy love. Throughout the first act, one could see her thinking: “Move the arm here, walk there, look up, turn the face left.” It was painful.

In the first scene of Act Two Netrebko simply disappeared in the swirl of the birthday party. Wearing a shapeless dull dress, she could have been a Larin family servant. Her expression suggested more boredom than unrequited love.

Without an enchanting and believable Tatiana at its center, this opera loses its considerable charm.

The production did have some nice minor touches. Projections of wheat fields and forests were effective as curtain raisers. A lovely sunrise awoke Tatiana from her sleep in the shed. Netrebko actually resembled her sister Olga, which heightened their relationship. (Olga was performed winningly by a fellow Russian, Oksana Volkova.) When Onegin is unhinged by seeing how elegant the adult, married Tatiana has become, he snatches an entire bottle of champagne, and not just a glass, during the St. Petersburg ball. But these were not many minutes of pleasure during an opera that stretched to four hours but should have been three.

At least we had a splendid Lenski in the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. His open, handsome, beaming face (at least until Onegin insults him in Act Two) made him a convincing young lover of Olga. He delivered both his major arias with beautiful, even tone and ample volume. He had almost enough juice in his voice to make his cry of the heart in Act Two over Olga’s behavior thrilling, although both Ramon Vargas and Neil Shicoff were more powerful in this essential moment.

The Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien has neither the imposing physique nor the menacing voice to make Onegin the villain he is. Tatiana’s infatuation with him was hard to understand. His anger didn’t come from his core. He was Onegin lite. Given Netrebko’s wooden Tatiana, few sparks flew between the two. Kwiecien at the Met has given a much better account of himself in comic roles such as Belcore in The Elixir of Love. Perhaps those parts better suit his personality. In short, bring back Dmitri Hvorostovsky in this role — forever.

Larissa Diadkova put her veteran, powerful, plummy mezzo to good use as Tatiana’s nanny, Filippyevna. Every syllabus she sang was filled with Russian authority.

As Triquet, the French teacher, John Graham-Hall showed a pleasant and accurate high tenor voice in delivering the little serenade to Tatiana at her party. Why he was wearing an old-fashioned knee brace that forced him into some awkward postures (I feared for his aching back) was never made clear in the production. The brace was so big that at first I thought he was on stilts.

Elena Zaremba has little to do as Tatiana’s mother, but she did it well and with her usual elegance. Alexei Tanovitski was the appropriately serious Prince Gremin, although his bass voice was a bit unstable, and the low notes might have been blacker.

Valery Gergiev, without doubt the leading conductor of the Russian repertoire on the world stage, did not disappoint. He led a stately performance, heavy with basses and cellos. The horns did good work for him. He delivered all the bon-bon dance numbers with panache. The energy in the pit never flagged despite some of the boredom on stage.

The team of Deborah Warner (listed as in charge of the production) and Fiona Shaw (stage director) deserve the blame for this clunker. One could readily believe The New York Times story that Shaw was rarely around to actually direct this show, so Netrebko’s shortcomings may not be all her fault. She and Kwiecien seem to have been left to their own dramatic instincts.

The lesson here is that when you have a splendid, beloved production of an opera such as Eugene Onegin, keep it. Spend your money elsewhere. It doesn’t grow on birch trees.

David Rubin

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):