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

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

Billy Budd in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd confirms once again that Britten’s reworking of Melville’s novella is among the great masterpieces of the repertory. It boasted an exemplary cast in an exemplary production, and enlightened conducting.

Dear Marie Stopes: a thought-provoking chamber opera

“To remove the misery of slave motherhood and the curse of unwanted children, and to secure that every baby is loved before it is born.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Martina Menegoni and Stjepan Franetović
28 Nov 2014

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

A new Yevgeny Oneginin Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

A review by Jonathan Sutherland

Above: Martina Menegoni and Stjepan Franetović

 

Certainly inspired opera directors such as Giorgio Strehler or Jean-Pierre Ponnelle could add impressive psychological and visual insight into much of the standard operatic repertoire. But when far less gifted directors, usually with a background in theatre or film rather than music, decide to impose their idiosyncratic, self-serving and often gratuitously gimmicky interpretations on an undeserving libretto, the results are usually either embarrassing (Christoph Schlingensief) or downright offensive (Hans Neuenfels). Polish director Michał Znaniecki falls somewhere between the two.

Based on the premise that Alexander Pushkin’s complex character of Yevgeny Onegin undergoes a complete transformation after killing his friend Lensky in a duel and then through the realization that he has fallen hopelessly in love with the once rejected Tatyana, Mr Znaniecki uses the metaphor of melting ice. Given the grim bleakness of the Russian climate, there is nothing too objectionable about that. The problem is that the icy stylized birch forest/cage of Act I starts melting in Act II and by Act III, the majority of the stage is covered with so much water it turns into a very large wading pond. Either there are serious leakage problems with the roof of Prince Gremin’s palace in St Petersburg or he has changed from being an army general to a Imperial navy admiral who enjoys the sound of waves lapping in his own ballroom.

Mr. Znaniecki also designed the costumes, which were much more successful although one suspects he must own shares in the local Zagreb dry-cleaners as every character in Act III, from dancers to chorus to principal protagonists ends up so completely drenched that huge scale costume cleaning on a nightly basis must be required. Definitely a wardrobe department’s ultimate nightmare. Only Prince Gremin escapes soggy trouser legs and wet socks by being confined to a wheel chair, which on the other hand severely limits the dramatic opportunities for movement during his splendid aria.

The dancers clearly had problems during the opening Act III polonaise and subsequent ecossaise due to the slippery floor lying below several centimeters of water. Flippers or synchronized swimming might have been a better option.

Another novelty was that although Tchaikovsky and Shilovsky stipulated that the opera was in seven scenes, Mr Znaniecki preferred only six. Act I Sc. ii set in Tatyana’s bedroom also becomes Act I Sc. iii enabling the local peasant maidens to traipse about their mistress’ boudoir as well as allowing Onegin, a total stranger, to wander in and sit quite nonchalantly on her bed.

Even by the usual standards of loose bucolic morals, such a liberty would never have been countenanced in 1820s aristocratic Russian society. At first it seemed as though Tatyana was dreaming Onegin’s reply to her garrulous letter (not a bad idea at all) but as subsequent stage direction proved, this was not the case.

The introduction of a very prominent pool (that word again) table in Madame Larina’s ballroom at the opening of Act II was another production quirk. Triquet climbs onto it to deliver his name-day encomium to Tatyana and also has her dragged up to join him. At the end of the fawning couplets, he proceeds to grope her. Hardly correct social decorum befitting an aristocratic soirée.

The billiard cues provide props for the initial confrontation between Onegin and Lensky. It all seems a bit gimmicky and the pool table severely limits the space available for dancers and chorus (which was consistently impressive) during the opening waltz and mazurka.

The only truly convincing production idea was in Act III when the chorus of Prince Gremin’s vapid socialite guests stand behind a clear plastic scrim menacingly beckoning Onegin, who is on the other side, to join their superficial flashy-splashy world. Maybe he would prefer to change into a wet-suit first.

Mr Znaniecki staged a very similar watery production of Yevgeny Onegin in Bilbao in 2011 for which he was awarded the Premios Foundation Teatro Campoamor Líricos for the best new production in Spain. One shudders to contemplate what the other productions must have been like. Two performances on 18th and 20th November were heard for the most part with alternating casts.

Of the recurring interpreters the Larina of Želika Martić was vocally competent but rather vulgar in characterization (although a rural landowner she is cousin to a princess in St Petersburg, so is hardly a bumpkin). Jelena Kordić sang a suitably perky and coquettish Olga without displaying any outstanding mezzo soprano qualities.

The Lensky of Domagoj Dorotić was somewhat variable but on the whole quite impressive, especially at the second performance. Unfortunately his Act I arioso declaring his passionate love to Olga was both vocally tentative and dramatically distant without any sense of ardor at all. He could have been reading the weather report from Rostov. On the other hand, Lensky’s celebrated Act II aria ‘Kuda, kuda’ was sung with sensitivity, elegant legato, commendable mezzavoce and a finely controlled piano. Dorotić also displayed a surprising ringing upper register tone on the G# at measure 102 and on the Ab in the andante mosso change at 111. It was no surprise that at both performances he received the loudest applause from the audience. Different singers sang the other roles.

The Filipjevna of Jelena Kordić was more successful in chest notes and projection than Branka Sekulić Ćopo. It’s a shame her short scena before Tatyana’s Letter aria was delivered at the front of the stage in virtual darkness.

Although both tended to drag the tempo, Ladislav Vrgoć was vocally a more secure Triquet than Mario Bokun and the Prince Gremin of Ivica Čikeš far more impressive than Luciano Batinić. Mr Čikeš has a truly powerful and resonant bass voice with admirable diction and projection. It was all the more surprising that his Bb at measure 38 on ‘счастье’ (and again during the da capo at 130) was alarmingly below pitch.

The Tatyana of Valentina Fijačko, although a tad matronly, was more successful than Adela Golac Rilović. Neither interpreter of the role was exactly outstanding although Miss Fijačko managed the pivotal Letter scene relatively well, especially pleasing with her word colouring of ‘whispered words of hope’ (слова надежды мне шепнул). Both sopranos seemed to have problems with the F natural opening of the wistful Db major theme at measures 195 and 211 and resorted to slight upward sliding to find the note. One certainly misses the effortless cantilena of Mirella Freni, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Anna Samuil or even Kiri te Kanawa at such moments.

In the title role shared by Ljubmir Puškarić and Robert Kolar, the latter was vocally and dramatically more convincing, but neither performance could be described as really memorable. The legato phrasing of both baritones was often lacking although the more declamatory passages were usually better sung. Interestingly neither braved the optional high piano F natural at the end of Onegin’s Act I aria which Peter Mattei’s performance of the role in Salzburg in 2007 made so affecting. It is also musically a much more satisfactory way of concluding the scena.

The real delight of these performances however was the conducting of veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza. This is a conductor who has directed inter alia, Götterdämmerung, Fidelio, Tosca, Il Trovatore and Andrea Chenier at La Scala and whose impressive credentials include the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Hamburg Staatsoper, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, and the Kirov Theatre in St. Petersburg. He also speaks fluent Russian, which was of immense help in supporting the singers in a Tchaikovsky opera - not to mention the fact that this was also the 6th production of the work he has led.

Similar to Wagner and Richard Strauss the orchestration in Yevgeny Onegin plays an absolutely paramount role. Part instrumental Greek chorus, part musical mirroring of the characters’ innermost thoughts and motivations and part reflection of the composer’s own angst and conflicting emotions at the time, this is a partitura so full of constantly shifting shadings, subtle rubati and emphatic rhythms, kaleidoscopic harmonics and minute inflections it covers every possible facet of orchestral expression. La tristesse Russe permeates almost every page of the score.

From the rousing brilliance of the Act III polonaise to the tender melancholy of the clarinet obbligato in Lensky’s aria, the plaintive violin phrases during Gremin’s aria, and the explosive fortissimo in the short orchestral passage towards the end of Tatyana’s letter scena (bars 270-293), maestro Bareza’s command of every nuance of this exceedingly complex score was unequivocally masterful.

Bareza: dix points, Znaniecki: zero.

Jonathan Sutherland


Cast and production information:

Conductor: Nikša Bareza. Direction and Costume Design: Michał Znaniecki. Set Design: Luigi Scoglio. Choreography: Diana Theocharidou. Larina: Želja Martić. Tatyana: Valentina Fijačko/Adela Golac Rilović. Olga: Jelena Kordić. Filipjevna: Branka Sekulić Ćopo/ Neda Martić. Yevgeny Onegin: Ljubmir Puškarić /Robert Kolar. Vladimir Lensky: Domagoj Dorotić. Prince Gremin: Ivica Čikeš/Luciano Batinić. Triquet: Ladislav Vrgoć /Mario Bokun. Photo credits: Mara Bratoš courtesy of the Croatian National Theatre Zagreb. Croatian National Theatre, Zagreb, 18th & 20th November 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):