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Notes and Editorial Reviews
This 1987 recording may not be the most “authentic” Onegin on the market–there’s not a Russian in the cast (Burchuladze is Georgian)–but it is the most intense, dramatic, and engrossing. Perhaps James Levine’s involvement with Verdi brought him to concentrate on the red-bloodedness of this work, since it is an opera that can come across as too subtle: literary, thoughtful, episodic, novelistic.
The storytelling is riveting–it’s a good tale no matter how one approaches it–and there are moments that must be suspenseful regardless of how many times we’ve heard or seen it. The duel scene here is tight and edgy, and the final confrontation–a quarter-hour of anticipation–is nerve-racking drama, but it rarely comes across as such.
Here, thanks to the opera’s two main characters, it makes the listener tremble.
Mirella Freni, 52 at the time of the recording, may not seem quite girlish enough for Tatjana in the first scenes, but the voice itself is in perfect shape, and the way she (and apparently Levine) reads the role is that she is a complex enough person to get herself into precisely the type of troubling situation that later occurs. I might add that it is just this complexity that allows her to sort out her life later on and find inner strength. It’s a psychological reading rather than a poetic one, and it works.
Thomas Allen, the great English baritone (still singing at 69), is remarkably aloof early on; he knows how to behave but not to care. You sense his disregard. The voice was at its richest in ’87 (odd that he ducks a high note at the close of his first-act aria) and he uses that power and expressiveness, along with what sounds to me like ideal Russian diction to great effect, and his final moments are those of a man who knows just how far he’s fallen. Only Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Philips) offers a more beautifully sung title role.
Neil Shicoff’s Lensky is wonderfully impetuous; there has always been a fine edge of Italianate desperation in his tone, and it plays perfectly here, as does the morbidezza he brings to “Kuda, kuda, kuda”. Paata Burchuladze’s peculiarly cavernous sound certainly impresses as Gremin; this is one serious man. Michel Sénéchal, only 60 years old at the time of this recording, makes M. Triquet’s couplets, which can be too coy and interruptive, sound both lovely and ironic. Anne Sofie von Otter is luxury casting as Olga, and she isn’t nearly as dreary as most mezzos in this role.
Again, this is a big performance: slowish, with the beautiful melodies drawn out in an almost Italian fashion but with Tchaikovsky’s Russian coloring intact, with big climaxes and great tension, and the Dresden forces play stunningly for Levine.
-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Eugene Onegin, Op. 24 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Mirella Freni (Soprano),
Anne Sofie von Otter (Alto),
Rosemarie Lang (Mezzo Soprano),
Neil Shicoff (Tenor),
Ruthild Engert (Mezzo Soprano),
Thomas Allen (Baritone),
Paata Burchuladze (Bass),
Michel Sénéchal (Tenor),
Jurgen Hartfiel (Tenor),
Gunter Emmerlich (Spoken Vocals)
Leipzig Radio Chorus,
Written: 1877-1878; Russia
Date of Recording: 06/1987
Venue: Lukaskirche, Dredsden
Length: 149 Minutes 12 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Nothing tentative here May 3, 2013
By J. Tatnall (West Grove, PA) See All My Reviews
"The East German sound first hits the listener as being of the studio. But the ear quickly adjusts and one is caught up in the drama. The chorus and orchestra from Leipzig and Dresden are first rate across the board. Freni, Allen, Shicoff, von Otter, et al. all belong to these roles. But the work of James Levine is unique. His approach is large felt, heart on sleeve, no holds barred romantic opera. At the same time the composer's markings are respected and no element is glossed over. The catharsis hits hard."