Thursday, February 15, 2007

Affecting Onegin

Eugene Onegin
Composed by Peter Tchaikovsky
Directed by Robert Carsen
Conducted by Valery Gergiev
Starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Renee Fleming, Ramon Vargas, Elena Zaremba

The Metropolitan Opera
West 62nd and 65th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Aves.
Performances February 9-March 3, 2007

Peter Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Eugene Onegin—based on Alexander Pushkin’s classic narrative poem—is one of the most emotionally affecting of all operas, with its tragic story of the doomed relationship between the reticent Onegin and the loving Tatiana.

More recently, Tchaikovsky’s other famous opera based on a Pushkin story, The Queen of Spades, has been considered in the running as the composer’s greatest stage work, but for all its intense drama, Spades isn’t a patch on Onegin, thanks to the latter’s nakedly emotional music, which places it squarely in that rarefied circle of the greatest operas.

That unguarded emotion was on display in spades in the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Robert Carsen’s 1997 production, which has completely sold out its run on the basis of sheer star power, both on the stage and in the pit. Conductor Valery Gergiev, obviously at home with his compatriot’s music, led the Met Orchestra and Chorus in a powerful performance, emphasizing both the muscle and finesse that alternate in Tchaikovsky’s greatest score.

As Tatiana, Renee Fleming probably would have sounded more effective if she had taken on this role at the Met several years ago, but the bloom remains in her voice, and she shone especially brightly in Tatiana’s famous Act One letter scene, where she brought out all of her character’s conflicting emotions. Also worthy was Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas, who exquisitely sang the lyrical role of Lenski, a close friend but later bitter rival of Onegin: the beautiful aria he sings before meeting Onegin in the fatal duel scene in Act Two is fraught with so much pain and sadness that it’s a pity that it’s the character’s (and singer’s) last scene.

Commanding the stage throughout the evening was Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin; he has charisma to burn, and his singing was the equal of his considerable stage presence. In Onegin and Tatiana’s climactic duet, Hvorostovsky and Fleming were as heartbreaking as Tchaikovsky intended his couple’s final break to be.

With the exception of lousy spacing of trees at the front of the stage in the first scene—which brings new meaning to the term “blocking” for some members of the audience, who can’t see the stars at times—Carsen’s physically spare staging is impressive because it rightly keeps the focus on the affecting story and the brilliant singers and musicians, which is the highest compliment to Tchaikovsky’s extraordinary stage drama.

originally posted on

No comments: