Eugene Onegin

HD cinema (Metropolitan Opera of New York)


This must be as close to perfection as an opera production certainly any production of this opera – can be.

The singing, orchestra, direction and visuals all come together magnificently to produce a richly satisfying operatic experience. (Full marks too to Peter Ilyich Tchaikowsky for his part in the production, and of course Alexander Pushkin!)

Performers from Russia and Poland take the principal roles, exuding a smouldering Slavic frisson that makes this work so potent.

Anna Netrebko is a joy to watch and hear, with her rich and sonorous voice matched by her touching acting of Tatiana as she transforms from shy romantic girl to dignified and principled woman. Her letter scene is absolute triumph. Mariusz Kwiecien is perfect as Onegin, with beautifully controlled singing and a very convincing acting of the young cynic who explodes into romantic frenzy. Piotr Beczala as Lenski is truly splendid, his famous pre-duel aria magnificent and his interactions with Olga and Onegin just right.

Of other principals, Oksana Volkova is a lovely Olga, vivaciously contrasting with Tatiana, and Elena Zaremba a kindly, long-suffering girls’ mother, understandably devastated by the wrecking of her social event by hot-headed young men. Both sing charmingly. I especially liked Larissa Diadkova as Tatiana’s nurse, full of sympathy, companionship and understandable concern at Tatiana’s folly. John Graham-Hall is a beautifully fussy Triquet, while Alexei Tanovitski captures Prince Gremin’s middle-aged passion perfectly. This opera has a lot of chorus work, and the singers play and sing their various roles well peasants, minor gentry and St Petersburg A-listers. They dance well too, to Kim Brandstrup’s vibrant choreography.

Director Deborah Warner with Fiona Shaw have shown how traditional settings need not be staid, but rather an opportunity for renewed theatrical intensity. The characters interact naturally and believably, giving an emotional but not sentimental edge to the performance. Various settings are successfully altered from the traditional version Onegin confronting Tatiana in the kitchen rather than the garden, and the final meeting of the couple dramatically played out against a snowy backdrop. I had only a few quibbles with the Warner/Shaw approach, the most important that it didn’t ring true to have Gremin singing his marvellous aria directly to Tatiana rather than to Onegin. But the two unexpected kisses exchanged between the young couple, in such differing circumstances, are a perfect touch.

Tom Pye’s sets and Chloe Obolensky’s richly varied costumes are traditional, evoking different elements of late-Nineteenth Century aristocratic Russia. It’s all very evocative of the literary pre-revolutionary Russia (especially Anna Karenina), that enriches our collective imaginations.

The wonderful Deborah Voigt, who thrilled an international audience as Brunnhilde in the Met’s Ring Cycle last year, is an entertaining host for the videocast, extracting amusing revelations from the singers as they exit breathless from the stage.

I found this production in almost all respects superior to the Met’s 2007 version starring Renee Fleming (also with Valery Gergiev conducting), and incomparably better than this year’s other internationally-screened production, that of the Royal Opera directed by Kasper Holten (a production featuring distracting dancing body doubles plus the ludicrous spectacle of Lensky’s corpse left on stage for the final act).

Full marks to the Met for kicking off the 2013-2014 season with this powerful and enthralling Eugene Onegin. (And if you missed it, there are snippets on Youtube, not all of them quite legit!)

— John Henningham
(Performance seen: Wed 30th October 2013)