Fathom Events' Met Opera's "Onegin": On Again, Off Again

Anna Netrebko in "Eugene Onegin"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

Timing is everything, as illustrated by the lyric opera Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, with libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky, after the poem by Alexsandr Pushkin. It's the story of love and indifference that pass as two ships in the night, not unlike the two protagonists in the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music , where two other ill-timed would-be lovers lament the ironic timing of their relationship in the song Send in the Clowns. In the case of this opera, which received its world premiere in Moscow in 1879, it's more the star-crossed and ill-timed lovers in Russian tragic literature, made more compelling by the composer's lush and elegant music. One might defy an opera goer not to find the main theme imbedded in one's mind for days after hearing Tchaikovsky's much-repeated leitmotif throughout this piece, reflecting the stasis in which these characters find themselves (or, rather, never quite find one another).

It is fall in the 1820's in the Russian countryside, where the widow Madame Larina (mezzo Elena Zaremba) lives with her daughters the bookish Tatiana (soprano Anna Netrebko), a romantic, and the spirited Olga (mezzo Elena Maximova), the latter being pursued by their neighbor the poet Lenski (tenor Alexey Dolgov). When his friend the aristocratic Eugene Onegin (baritone Peter Mattei) visits him, Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, writing him a very passionate letter, which she sends via her maid Filippyevna (mezzo Larissa Diadkova). He responds that he can offer her merely friendship, advising her to curb her emotions should a man seek to take advantage of her. Come January, Lenski convinces Onegin to accompany him to the name day celebration for Tatiana, where Onegin becomes bored and flirts with Olga. Lenski jealously challenges him to a duel, at which Lenski is killed. Years later, Onegin returns from a self-imposed exile and visits the dashing Prince Gremin (bass Stefan Kocan) in St. Petersburg, where he learns Tatiana has wed the prince. This time it is Onegin who writes to express his love and urge her to run away with him. She confesses she still loves him, but refuses to leave her husband, leaving Onegin in despair.

In this Co-Production by the Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera, there's much to admire, notably from Conductor Robin Ticciati, (Music Director of the Glyndbourne Festival) who splendidly leads the Met Orchestra in this Production by Deborah Warner. The Costume Design by Chloe Obolensky, Lighting Design by Jean Kalman, Video Design by Finn Ross and Ian William Galloway and Stage Direction by Paula Williams all contribute to a feel for the period. The Set Design by Tom Pye is a vast improvement on the Met's previous stark and boring one, and the Choreography by Kim Brandstrup, though in cramped spaces, is lively, as is the always-reliable Met Opera Chorus under its venerable Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. The HD Director Gary Halvorson and HD Host Renee Fleming add to the enjoyment. But highest among the accolades one could confer on this production is the singing, which is of course as it should be in opera. Netrebko is outstanding, especially in the justly famous “letter scene” aria, as are Mattei in the unsympathetic title role and Dolgov in the poignant “Lenski's aria”. Even Kocan in his brief role of the Prince is unforgettable, with his seemingly impossible low range and eyes meant for HD closeups.

In the end, the quality of the music and its mostly eloquent delivery in this performance make the case for this opera once again. One need not urge Beethoven to “roll over and tell Tchaikovsky the news”; Piotr is yet again in the operatic headlines.

Fathom Events will re-broadcast "Eugene Onegin" on Weds. April 26th at a cinema near you.

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