'Eugene Onegin' contains some of the most gorgeous music in all opera, searing dramatic and emotional conflicts between characters and the beautiful and poignantly tragic story of Pushkin's verse novel is one of the great Russian stories. So to me 'Eugene Onegin' is a masterwork and one of my favourites from Tchaikovsky.
This is the third time that 'Eugene Onegin' has featured on the interesting 'Metropolitan Opera HD Live' series, the first time in 2007 with Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Renee Fleming and the second in 2013 with Mariusz Kwiecien and Anna Netrebko, the latter of which this 2017 production is a revival of. It is hard to say whether it is better than the 2013 production, which despite not being perfect was hugely impressive to me, there are significant improvements here and also things that were preferred in the earlier performance.
Visually, on the most part, it is a handsome production to look at. The rustic colours in the party scene and most of Act 1 fit within the tone of the scenes, the costumes are tailored beautifully and sumptuous(all of Onegin's costumes and Tatiana's Act 3 ballroom dress) and the ballroom setting in Act 3 was very opulent. Of all the settings, the most effective was the cold dark night setting of the last scene of Act 2, the final scene was also beautifully done.
There are two exceptions, as with the 2013 production. The setting of Tatiana's bedroom, which was far too drab and almost like a sparsely furnished and incredibly drab greenhouse, and Tatiana's dress in the Act 2 party scene, too frumpy and the colour didn't fit or stand out among the rustic settings, Netrebko literally disappears among everyone else at times in this act.
Much of the staging is most compelling and tasteful. A significant improvement this time is that the pacing feels tighter, now that the scene changes (overlong and pulse-killing before) are nowhere near as problematic. The confrontation between Lensky and Onegin in Act 2 is incredibly intense and you cannot fail to watch the final scene without tears falling down your cheeks. The "peasant's chorus" is suitably lusty and jovial and the waltz scene is thrilling. Gremin's aria's staging here is far more wistful and the Monsieur Le Triquet scene isn't as milked.
Act 3's polonaise dance however is sadly cramped in population and with things (especially the columns) in the way and some of Act 1 is slightly muddled on a dramatic front.
On a musical level, the production is outstanding and near-perfect, faltering only really in the Act 1 quartet where a disagreement over tempos seemed to be happening and the somewhat under-powered strained singing of Monsieur Le Triquet. The orchestra play with intensity, passion, style and pathos, such dynamic and thrilling playing throughout and the resonant sound quality of the simulcast helps them. The brass blasts out in a stately way when needed, the strings shimmer and the cellos, basses and woodwind are very foreboding. The chorus sing beautifully and tellingly too, especially the warm sopranos and sonorous basses, will also keep gushing until blue in the face at how much improved the chorus' acting has become over the years.
Robin Ticcati's conducting has alert energy and sensitive nuance, bringing out the majesty but also the intimacy. The first act peasant chorus and waltz are immensely fun to listen to, the act 2 confrontation was nail-biting and the Polanaise was the very meaning of grand, while also allowing the Letter scene and Lensky and Gremin's arias to speak for themselves.
Peter Mattei (and Kwiecien earlier on in the performance run) replaced scheduled Onegin Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who sadly pulled out of this and other scheduled opera performances to undergo brain cancer treatment. A fairly seasoned Onegin himself, Mattei looks, acts and sounds the part as if born to play. He has a beautiful sonorous sound to his voice and phrases everything with calm intelligence, you totally see what everybody sees in Onegin the way Mattei performs him and you do see a growth to Onegin here as ought, from icy, arrogant and boorishly dismissive to genuinely repentant and remorseful.
Even better is Netrebko, who is once again as in 2013 a magnificent Tatiana. Commented then that it seemed (although back then it was actually a role debut) like she had been singing the role for years and it was roles like this she should be singing now, still stand by that. Her acting shows Tatiana's change from love-struck naivety (without being clueless) to regal maturity with affecting conviction and her singing is incredibly musical and dark-toned, especially in her outstanding account of the Tour De Force Letter Scene.
Lensky is just as important a role, very well filled by Alexei Dolgov, a completely new name to me and he shows himself to be a promising talent. He sings with heroism and lyricism, oh so appropriate for Act 2, and while not living the role like Piotr Beczala did his performance is a passionate and sensitive one, even if "Kuda, Kuda" didn't quite move me as much as it usually does.
Elena Maximova is very charming as Olga, and sings with warm plushness and character, especially in her act 1 aria. Elena Zaremba is a little under-pitch and unsteady at times but her acting is characterful and tellingly dignified. Larissa Diadkova is a sympathetic nurse and her voice is appealingly penetrating. Stefan Kocan is a huge improvement over the Gremin of the 2013 production, whereas the Gremin there didn't work at all for me Kocan from personal opinion gives one of his better overall performances seen from him as a relatively frequent performer on this series, his voice is dark yet sensitive and acting understated and wistful without being a bore.
In conclusion, musically near-perfect and often intensively moving. A winner and one of the better productions of the 2016/2017 season. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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