LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin
WORKS: Eugene Onegin
PERFORMER: Elena Zaremba, Anna Netrebko etc; Metropolitan Opera/Valery Gergiev; dir. Deborah Warner/Fiona Shaw
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 073 5114 blu-ray: 073 5115
An opera of the 1870s based on a novel in verse of the 1830s, Eugene Onegin is here treated as a Chekhov-style play of the 1890s. In some ways this makes sense: Tchaikovsky admired Chekhov, while the opera’s emotional identification with its characters has more affinity with
that era’s sensibility than Pushkin’s more sceptical outlook. Of the resulting anachronisms, only the duelling scene – an event almost unthinkable in Tchaikovsky’s era – really jars: rather than attempt to mute this, producer Deborah Warner embraces its absurd horror by arming Onegin and Lensky with rifles. Elsewhere, serfs become emancipated peasants who visit the Larins as a harvest festival procession.
First staged by English National Opera, Warner’s production has some changes with its Met Opera incarnation: the opening scene – originally staged in a large wooden barn – is now a spacious yet stuffy-looking conservatory, making Tatiana’s provincial existence appear even more oppressive. Though in her forties, soprano Anna Netrebko convincingly projects the teenage Tatiana’s inwardness and sensitivity, singing with a voice much enriched since her early coloratura days.
Piotr Beczaa, bookish and intense as Lensky, is deeply moving during the humiliating party scene and duel. I’m less convinced by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien´’s Onegin, here not simply a bored young man, worldly before his time, but a cad who, even as he bats away Tatiana’s declaration of love, toys provocatively with various apples, then gives her a lingering kiss when he leaves. Tchaikovsky may have approved – he loathed Onegin – but what would he have made of Tatiana returning that kiss in the final scene?
Valery Gergiev’s conducting is rather easygoing at first – Tatiana’s letter scene lacks intensity until the final few bars – yet takes off in the following scene and flies to the end. The extras involve soprano Deborah Voigt briefly interviewing him and
the principal singers.