Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Eugene Onegin
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Elena Zaremba, Sergei Aleksashkin; Metropolitan Opera/
Valery Gergiev; dir. Peter McClintock
CATALOGUE NO: 0743248 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic)
Luxuriously cast but staged with restraint, Robert Carsen’s production as revived by Peter McLintock has already reached wide audiences through the Met’s live screenings. For once, Onegin really is central to the drama rather than a puzzling cipher who springs to life too late. First seen in the Introduction tormented by past letters and showered with autumn leaves, Hvorostovsky’s hero, always elegant in his long phrases, shows a human face to the rejection of the young and impressionable Tatyana and sensitively underlines the notion, heightened by Tchaikovsky’s short duet of asides, that the senseless duel with his best friend Lensky might be stopped at any moment. The Larin girls aren’t quite credible in their youthfulness – Zaremba’s Olga comes across as a middle-aged coquette – but Fleming does put across Tatyana’s dilemma with a wealth of colours. She may not touch the heart like Glyndebourne’s Yelena Prokina in the Letter Scene (on Warner), but Fleming comes into her own in the final blaze of passion, a truly cinematic scene between two charismatic stars. A host of Russian cameos, led by Aleksashkin’s stalwart Prince, lend authenticity, though it’s a pity the Metropolitan Opera Chorus hardly dance (only the last-Act Ecossaise is brought to life by two ballet extras). Rounding out the bare poetry of the staging, Gergiev conjures limpid but always well projected woodwind solos in the first act and powerful bass lines to emphasise lurking tragedy. He’s also an inspiring presence in the short behind-the-scenes documentary.