The MET Opera’s opening night performance of Deborah Warner’s production of Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s dynamic and passionate opera, on September 23, 2013, retained its inherent lyrical beauty and expansive grandeur despite the sparse, utilitarian aspects of some of the overall production stage designs. There was criticism of the crowded quality of sets during the waltz and other scenes involving dance and movement by the cast. However, if any aspect of staging tended toward lessening or limiting the magnitude of the production’s overall effectiveness, this was completely overcome by the excellent vocal range, expression, color and delivery of the opera’s principal singers.
It seems, as well, that Warner has envisioned and created a performance closely aligned with the pulse and verbal flow of Pushkin’s poetic novel, on which the opera is based. With the libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and Tchaikovsky, the original intent of the scenario is inherent and available for fine artistic interpretation and delivery. Fiona Shaw, as production director, succeeds in bringing the characters and the often conflicting nuances of their lives and personalities alight on the stage, enabling the opera’s principals and other players to embrace dimensions far beyond the venues of the book’s pages and chapters.
Although the marked contrasts may require acclimation by the audience, the elements of grandeur and expansiveness in some of Tom Pye’s set designs juxtaposed on the otherwise simplified, even sparse production staging form a multi-dimensional reality all their own. This effect to some degree disperses the crowded elements of some scenes, extending our range of creative vision beyond that of the stage presentation before us. The natural style and colorations of Chloe Obolensky’s costumes and Jean Kalman’s outstanding contrasts in lighting effects complement and enhance the production. In addition, video designers Ian William Galloway and Finn Ross lend further dimensions and descriptive elements, and the choreography of Kim Brandstrup reveals both mannerisms and societal facets characteristic of the opera’s era and historical setting.
This dynamic and frequently murky and darkening drama is expressively edged and sparked with the lilt of lighter moments and the unsettling yet familiar foibles, changes of heart, shifting mindsets and tragic vulnerabilities common to the emotional life experiences of humanity. Despite our sense of affinity with certain aspects, qualities and actions of the opera’s dramatic characters, however, they very strongly claim and maintain their powerful identities and complex individualism as portrayed by the superb MET opera cast.
As Tatiana, soprano Anna Netrebko’s passionately sung elegy for her unrealized early union with Onegin is brilliant in its sheer emotional power, exquisite color, splendid and luxurious tonal dimensions and subtle nuances.
There are countless gradations of sparkle and shadow in her finely elegant, sensitive vocal portrayal of Tatiana, and her highly skilled acting abilities ensure a uniquely creative totality of character development and enactment. In her role, she completely mesmerizes and captivates the audience through her all-encompassing understanding of her character, the opera, and the original Pushkin novel in verse, all in combination with the comprehensive excellence of her vibrantly beautiful, stunning vocal capacities and performance.
In his strongly convincing portrayal of Eugene Onegin, Mariusz Kwiecien uses the mellow richness of his resonant baritone voice to convey and convince us of the multiplicity of his emotional state, which vascilates from blatant truthfulness to shades of indignant confrontation and overstated self-indulgence.
[quote]With the range, power and expressive hues of his vocal delivery, he evokes the honest sympathies of audience members for his obvious character flaws and disregard for reality.[/quote]
As Tatiana’s sister Olga, mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova is vividly impassioned. Her current suitor and fiancé is their neighbor, the poet Lenski, and her excitement and enthusiasm for him is evident in the bright, fluent vitality and sincerity of her pure vocal tones.
In the role of Lenski, tenor Piotr Beczala artfully reveals his devout passion for Olga by enacting his deep thoughts and reflections on love, his strong sense of jealousy and his poignant realizations concerning his precarious position as his rivalry with Onegin unfolds and evolves. His vocal delivery extends to embrace the ardent colorations defining his layered and torn emotions.
[box_light]Supporting Cast Members[/box_light]
The supporting cast and the chorus all offer fine performances. The vocal quality and dramatic presence of both Elena Zaremba, as the sisters’ mother, Madame Larina, and Larissa Diadkova as Filippyevna, Tatiana’s nurse, are excellent. Fine performances are also achieved by Richard Bernstein in his role as Zaretski and David Crawford as the captain. As the elderly character of Prince Gremin, Alexei Tanovitski is convincingly forthright in his display of admiration for Tatiana, and John Graham-Hall plays the cameo role of Monsieur Triquet with a sense of charming aplomb.
[box_light]Conductor and Orchestra[/box_light]
As conductor, Valery Gergiev brings his expertise, experience and extensive knowledge concerning the Russian opera’s history and repertoire to the excellent MET Opera Orchestra and this fine Metropolitan Opera production. This is, without question, an opera performance to attend and engage, immerse and involve ourselves in for the sake of living through the dynamic purity and essence of its ardent and tragically full operatic experience.