Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
Forget any sense of intimacy in Tchaikovsky’s lyrical scenes in this Eugene Onegin; director Stefan Herheim’s approach is one of kaleidoscopic excess. Meeting at a latter-day party wrapped in oligarchical bling, a tortured and palpably mature Tatyana and Onegin seem to be remembering an imperial Russian past in which he rejected her youthful ardour, a revolution triggered at the fateful party where the poet Lensky challenges his badly-behaved friend, and a Polonaise stacked with Soviet clichés (gymnasts, astronauts, ballet and folk dancers). With more focus, it might have worked. But even viewers familiar with Pushkin’s relatively straightforward story will find themselves puzzled by motivation and meaning. The chorus mills around when it’s not wanted, not least at Onegin and Lensky’s duel; Tatyana’s letter scene finds her Act III husband – Mikhail Petrenko – in bed as well as the older Onegin writing his own love-epistle to the girl he once rejected. A documentary goes some way to explaining the intent but doesn’t justify the ramshackle end result.
No doubt about it, though, this is musically world-class. Mariss Jansons’s conducting, very imposing in the big moments with sometimes exaggerated lower colours from the Concertgebouw in the pit, accords with the broad brushstrokes of Herheim’s production. But the singers are vocally near ideal. Krassimira Stoyanova’s Tatyana is thrillingly secure as well as vulnerable when she needs to be. Bo Skovhus projects the necessary charisma sometimes lacking from Onegin, and Lensky is irreproachably sung by tenor Andrej Dunaev. Visually, though, even the extra sharpness of Blu-Ray can’t conceal the fact that the cameras often don’t know where to look. This opera can take powerful reimagining, as productions on DVD from Salzburg and Moscow have shown. But they had a powerful, human narrative, while Herheim’s is all too diffuse.