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

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Onegin Montpellier [Photo by Marc Ginot]
21 Jan 2014

Eugene Onegin in Montpellier

Entering the hall there arose the Dantesque “abandon all hope ye who enter” feeling — a cluttered a vista socialist setting, a poster of Lenin and large letters proclaiming Moscow, December 1999.

Eugene Onegin in Montpellier

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Dina Kuznetsova as Tatiana, Lucas Meachem as Eugene Onegin [Photo Marc Ginot / Opéra national de Montpellier]

 

Maybe Pushkin never existed and Tchaikovsky is a condemned a bourgeois composer.

The first music we heard came from a cheap socialist era stereo, a blast of heavy metal to which a ripe young female appropriately gyrated. Fear and hope were equally mixed that this was the Tatiana. She was not, but was one of the seething swarm of inhabitants of a large communal apartment construed on the stage, leaving no doubt that therein existed a cosmos of human souls.

Emerging from this swarm were figures who gracefully appeared and disappeared, the characters we know by Pushkin’s names who moved in and out of the kitchen, the bedrooms, TV salon, bathroom, (spaces cleverly defined with minimal doorway lines and furniture) with beguiling naturalness and an ease that was purely musical.

There was one resident with a digital camera, a voyeur who surreptitiously captured young women in the a vista shower (we saw silhouette against the shower curtain). Innocent and charming, except we see him follow Olga as she pursues and then seduces Onegin while Tatiana is writing her letter. This spied upon scene took place on a slightly elevated platform behind the apartment floor, a place that served throughout the evening as somewhere else.

You get the picture. Filippievna did a lively dance to the famous Russian gypsy song “Dark Eyes” while listening to the radio before Tatiana’s birthday party where Lenski got jealous. The digital camera with its stored images got passed around. There was no way to stop a session of Russian roulette.

Onegin_Montpellier2OT.png Dina Kuznetsova as Tatiana, Olga Tichina as Filippievna. Photo Marc Ginot / Opéra national de Montpellier

It is indeed a digital world that allows quick and easy recording and transmission of images and scenes of life around us, from all angles and in duplication and repetition. Here digital technology was used to add additional perspectives to what we could see from our seats. Intimate scenes were magnified onto the huge blank stage backdrop, the apartment as seen from above was projected onto the huge screen echoing what we could see from our seats, etc. These were direct dramatic motivations for use of multimedia and the achievement of rare theatrical integrity for the use of such technology.

As a theater piece, really a theatrical installation based on Eugene Onegin it was conceptually elegant, masterfully directed, wonderfully witty and charmingly successful. While it may have been at cultural odds with the richly romantic voice of Pushkin it was easily comfortable with the broad and absolutely obvious emotional climate of Tchaikovsky’s genius if not this composer’s nineteenth century tonalities.

The separation of the mise en scéne from its sources was complicated by a separation of the pit and the stage. Tchaikovsky’s score was elegantly realized by Finnish conductor Ari Rasilainen and Montpellier’s fine Orchestre national. It was a symphonic reading, the conductor pulling every possible nuance and depth of tone from his instruments, and carefully pacing the flow to exploit his players’ musicality.

While the maestro did cue the entrances of the voices he did not visually or musically communicate with the stage in any other way. Left on their own the singers responded to secure, sturdy tempos but were bereft of the supercharged emotional thrust that makes Onegin (or any Tchaikovsky opera) a huge and immediate emotional experience. Perhaps this distant music actually served the production, reinforcing the blatant separation of source from its translation, Pushkin from Putin, poetry from TV drama, and finally separating high nineteenth century art from what was high twenty-first century art.

There were many grand moments created by a superb cast, and not least by the Onegin of American baritone Lucas Meachem as a souless man, a man who did not know who or what he is. Mr. Meachem was unable to sustain a singing tone nor could he find the tonalities of the Russian language. Mr. Meachem however brought a physicality to Onegin that was quite involving and finally moving. Sad to say he was not given the final bow, he is after all the name of the opera.

Onegin_Montpellier3OT.png Act II Country Ball. Photo Marc Ginot / Opéra national de Montpellier

Tatiana was Russian born soprano Dina Kuznetsova, alumna of the young artist program at Lyric Opera of Chicago, who wrote her letter moving between the kitchen table and the window of her room (metal lines directly frontal onto the audience, i.e. in your face), the brilliant light of the opened refrigerator flooding the darkened kitchen at an appropriate textural moment. Mlle. Kuznetsova possesses a round, Slavic toned voice she used with dramatic knowledge and style, unable however to squarely hit the high note at the ends of her letter and her final duet with Onegin.

Olga was enacted by French mezzo soprano Anna Destraël in a performance that was so real it was unnerving. Olga, a slut, was visibly bored by Lenski though she was happy to go to bed with him (we saw this in the ferment of life in the communal apartment), her seduction, quasi rape of Onegin showed real animal determination, her slight response to Lenski’s jealosy was of a shallow adolescent. It was a powerful performance that went well beyond good singing. It did not endear her to the audience.

Bespectacled Lenski was sung by Turkmenistan tenor Dovlet Nurgeldiyev, his spectacles crushed on the floor by Onegin he sang his “Kuda, kuda vï udalilis” emotionally groping his way across the stage as a pathetic rather than a sympathetic, sometimes tragic figure. Beautifully sung it earned the evening’s biggest ovation.

Simply superb were the two aging Russian women, proto petite bourgeoise, Larina sung by Svetlana Lifar and Filippievna sung by Olga Tichina. Russian bass Mischa Schelomianski oiled his way across the stage as an oligarch, the Prince Gremin. His surveillance cameras caught the Onegin Tatiana duet in eight identical images he sees from his armchair — ironically Tatiana’s new life as transparent as her past life.

All the scenes of acts I and II were run together. After the intermission four homeless looking dancers shoved a homeless looking Onegin around the stage to the music of the first polonaise. The second polonaise at a nouveau riche cocktail party brought the Opéra’s fine chorus into in a moving circle, their clicking heels forcing the Tchaikovsky polonaise to a halt. It was a moment of powerful dramatic punctuation that underlined the wonderfully theatrical nature of this fine evening at the opera (of which this account is but the tip of the iceberg).

Authors of this theatrical installation were Marie-Eve Signeyrole who imagined and created the mise en scène and her collaborators Yashi Tabassomi (costumes), Philippe Berthomé (lights), Julie Compans (movement) and Julien Meyer (audiovisual).

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Onegin: Lucas Meachem; Tatiana: Dina Kuznetsova; Olga: Anna Destraël; Lenski: Doviet Nurgeldiyev; Prince Gremin: Mischa Schelomianski; Madame Larina: Svetlana Lifar; Filippievna: Olga Tichina; Monsieur Triquet: Loïc Félix; Zaretski: Laurent Sérou. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. Conductor: Ari Rasilainen; Mise en scène and stage setting: Marie-Éve Signeyrole; Costumes: Yashi Tabossomi; Lighting: Philippe Berthomé. Opéra Berlioz, Montpellier. January 17, 2014.

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):