Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

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):