Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):