Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Eugene Onegin
PERFORMER: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Nuccia Focile, Neil Shicoff, Olga Borodina, Sarah Walker, Alexander Anisimov; St Petersburg Chamber Choir, Orchestre de Paris/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: 438 235-2 DDD
The chief appeal of this disc – apart from the high proportion of echt-Russians in the cast – is that so many of the singers are still comparatively young. Tchaikovsky’s greatest opera is too often cast with performers so blatantly middle-aged that the foolishness of their behaviour seems ridiculous rather than tragic.

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Nuccia Focile is an engaging Tatyana, authentically Slav-sounding despite her Sicilian origins, and engagingly passionate. From the ingenuous impulsiveness of her Letter Scene in Act I, she matures convincingly and is sublimely regal by the final scene. Her younger sister Olga is brilliantly realised by Olga Borodina, a mezzo of outstanding warmth and beauty. Neil Shicoff’s Lensky is also nobly drawn, though his great Act II lament is painfully deliberate.

Unfortunately, it is Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s Onegin that lets the side down. His voice is undeniably radiant, rich and resonant, but his characterisation is barely there. This is scarcely a problem in Acts I and II: Onegin is cold and soulless so it may be intentional that all he does is sing ravishingly, igniting the hearts of women. But by the final act, when he makes a declarationof love to Tatyana, his ardour is so completely unconvincing that one is left in no doubt that she is better off with Alexander Anisimov’s majestic Gremin.

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Part of the problem may be Semyon Bychkov’s idiosyncratic conducting, which uses eccentric speeds, exaggerated rallentandos and skates over much of the score’s gloriously lyrical detail rather than relishing it. Claire Wrathall