Notes and Editorial Reviews
Alexander Vedernikov, cond; Tatiana Monogarova (
); Mariusz Kwiecien (
); Andrey Dunaev (
); Anatolij Kotscherga (
); Bolshoi Theater O & Ch
BELAIR 46 (2 DVDs: 150:00
and Translation) Live: Paris 9/2006
Director and cast discuss the production
This is a unique and compelling rendering of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece. It features a relatively new production (from 2006) in which the Bolshoi replaced its historic version which ran for 60 years! Imagine the courage it took for director Dmitri Tcherniakov to completely rethink the grandeur and majesty of the famous old production and go in an utterly different direction. That it succeeds in gripping the viewer is quite a tribute. This performance took place on tour in Paris, and the lack of a specific date indicates it was edited from more than one night.
Tcherniakov has turned
into an intimate and completely human drama, eliminating the spectacle element and concentrating on the relationships of the characters. Tatiana seems at times, early in the opera, so detached from what is happening around her as to appear almost autistic—going through the motions of living but feeling nothing until she sees Onegin. Her letter scene is an emotional outburst, and the transformation into the regal wife of Gremin in the final act is believable and complete. Onegin himself is less cruel, more human than he is shown in most productions—still arrogant and cold, but not unfeeling. Lenski is a distracted, naive poet (to emphasize this, Tcherniakov takes the risk of having him sing Triquet’s song—and for me it works to underline his lack of touch with reality).
There are some highly unusual aspects to the production. Onegin and Lenski do not duel—but rather fight over the rifle, which goes off accidentally and kills Lenski. Onegin here actually tries to prevent the duel. This is in keeping with the more gentle, less cruel approach to Onegin’s character. What will be most surprising to viewers is that the entire opera takes place indoors (nothing of the Larin estate’s garden), in a kind of timeless setting. It could be early 20th century, or even today—the costumes are not time-specific, and neither is the décor. The first two acts take place in the same large dining room with a very long table in it; the third is in Gremin’s estate, but also in a dining room (the same basic set, but it has taken on lush paneling and a large chandelier). The only presence of nature or the outdoors is the shocking blowing open of the windows and flying of curtains at the end of the letter scene, a stunning moment. The table is used as a prop to group or separate people—the two long scenes between Onegin and Tatiana begin with them at opposite ends of the table. In order to underline the reversal of their roles in the two scenes (she is pleading with him the first time, he with her the second) the ends they occupy are reversed. And in the first scene, he breaks the distance by walking over to her; in their last encounter, she is the one who walks over to him. The Polonaise in the third act is not danced—it is played while the populace remains seated at the long table.
You may not think of
as an intimate opera, but it works wonderfully. We are drawn completely into the characters and the drama. What makes it work is not only the imaginative and sensitive direction, but also the performances. Tatiana, Lenski, Onegin, and Gremin fully inhabit their roles—and also sing them magnificently. Monogarova’s Tatiana is the standout (but then, Tatiana is truly the major character in Tchaikovsky’s opera), believable from beginning to end. Even though this was shot during live performances, there is not a moment of playing to the audience, from her or from anyone. These characters interact with each other as well as do actors in a great stage play; this is operatic acting at its highest level. Add to that Monogarova’s glowing, warm-toned voice, Dunaev’s lovely lyric tenor, and Kwiecien’s rich baritone—and you have an unforgettable performance.
The smaller roles are mostly very well done, too, though the Nurse and Madame Larina are on the shrill side. Anatolij Kotscherga’s Gremin is superbly sung, and a bit more bitter than we usually hear. Another plus is Margarita Mamsirova’s richly sung and sharply characterized Olga. Vedernikov’s conducting is dramatic and effective throughout. He has taken his cue from the production, and so he avoids flash and brilliance but instead finds a rich palate of dark colors in the orchestra. He paces the music perfectly from beginning to end. The sound is fine, though once in a while a singer seems just a touch off the microphones—but it never distracts, and the direction for the cameras is very sensitive, lingering when it should. A nice bonus is a 26-minute discussion with the director and some of the cast about the specifics of this production; it gives helpful insights into the thinking behind this revolutionary staging. So does the director’s essay in the (multilingual) booklet. The English titles are sometimes clumsy, but they certainly convey the drama.
If you want to see the famous production that ran for six decades, you can on a TDK DVD (OPEON) conducted by Mark Ermler, and with Maria Gavrilova’s Tatiana. It’s beautifully sung if dramatically placid, but a splendid example of the old grandeur that one usually associates with
. The Gergiev-led Met production (Decca 001052529), with Fleming, Vargas, and Hvorostovsky, has been widely praised, particularly for glorious singing, but I have not seen it. I have also not seen the Barenboim performance from Salzburg, with Peter Mattei and Anna Samuil (DG 001148209), and have read strongly conflicting views about it.
is unlike any other you are likely to see—stripped of excess, splash, and “Russian” atmosphere, it is an intimate and deeply moving human story. I found myself totally caught up in it, and would recommend it highly to anyone who loves this opera. You will not put it out of your memory.
FANFARE: Henry Fogel
The last new, home-grown production of Eugene Onegin in Moscow--the opera's original home--was in 1944 and has been in use since then. It was rife with traditional grandeur, splendidly evoking its time and place. It would take a brave, new director to dare to try to entertain generations of Muscovites with a work they are familiar with in a different manner.
The task fell to Dmitri Tcherniakov in 2006, whose evocation of time and place is a well-appointed, spacious dining room with a huge, oval table and plenty of room to sit. The action never moves outdoors; nature comes in the form of vistas from the room's large windows. The superb lighting, by Gleb Filshtinsky, changes the mood to great effect and contains many surprises, adding to the drama.
Tatiana of course is at the opera's center, but she seems alone in the room, rarely interacting with others. Indeed, she may have some kind of social disorder or be otherwise locked in emotionally. Tatiana Monogarova, a beautiful woman and fine actress, sings the role with lovely round tone and great warmth; her Letter Scene, exquisitely lit, sung partially across the dining table to an imagined Onegin and partially as interior monologue, will not soon be forgotten. She's vital and animated here, if a bit too much, and she is visibly stunned in the next scene when Onegin insults her. When he tries to dance with her in Act 2 she does not move at all. And she doesn't disappoint through to the end.
Lenski is a sensitive nerd and Olga seems little interested in him, laughing at his poems. He inexplicably sings Triquet's little song--does he think he's making Onegin jealous by flirting with Tatiana or is he merely desperate for attention? Tatiana stands by as he sings and prances; she is almost catatonic. He acts the clown, is mocked by all, and is slapped by Mme. Larina. His humiliation and almost Werther-like poetic temperament and disappointment leave him with only one choice--the duel. At the scene's end, Tatiana alone comforts him and we realize that the couples are mismatched. The duel scene the next morning, also in the dining room, begins with maids clearing up, some guests awakening, and Olga searching for her earring under the table; Lenski, dressed for the outdoors, rifle in hand, is seen as a joke by almost all until tragedy strikes. The men grapple over the one rifle and it goes off accidentally, killing Lenski. Andrey Dunaev sings the role handsomely--both Triquet's gorgeous music and his own. He may be neither Fritz Wunderlich nor Neil Shicoff, but he sings with clear, ringing tone. In the long run, however, the characterization doesn't really work; it strips Lenski of dignity and pathos.
The last act is again in a larger dining room, more luxurious and grander, and in a different time and setting. I won't give any more details (save that Onegin announces his boredom, toast-like, to the seated throng, who ignore or walk out on him). But suffice it to say that keeping the opera indoors and in as bourgeois a setting (à la Buñuel) as a dining room ignores the opera's more rustic, natural moments and tends to make it truly claustrophobic. It makes us focus only on the characters and their interactions (à la Bergman).
We also have to buy the fact that Tatiana is a depressive to start and that her one moment of unlocking is so heavily thwarted that she becomes practically comatose until she finds a man she can trust (she tells Gremin about her feelings for Onegin)--which turns her into Grace Kelly. This is a family drama, with more than a hint of Chekhov in the wind. Tcherniakov refocuses many textual ideas and gives us a well-thought out, intelligent, alternate view of a great work. It does no harm to the music and is not an act of Regietheater treachery.
In the title role, Polish baritone Mariusz Kweicien plays Onegin as self-centered and honest to a point of insensitivity, but not cruel. He gets no pleasure out of hurting Tatiana, genuinely does not want the duel, and his final-act breakdown shows just what a paper tiger he has apparently always been. His too-dapper presentation is almost dandyish; he does not impress either as an alpha male or alpha-intellect. This, of course, is Tcherniakov's reading. Kweicien sings the role with beautifully rounded tone and self-righteousness--but an interesting bonus documentary, in which he and Tcherniakov (and others) are interviewed, shows the two of them to be at odds over the interpretation.
Margarita Mamsirova is impressive as Olga, both dramatically and vocally. As a bow to the old regime, the nurse, Mme Larina, and Gremin are sung by Bolshoi stalwarts--Emma Sarkisyan, Makvala Kasrashvili (who during the documentary expresses a certain horror at being asked to sing such a small part), and Anatolij Kotscherga. The women are wobbly and Kotscherga misreads the role and aria entirely--rather than a reflection on love and age, he makes it a diatribe. Pity.
Alexander Verdernikov leads a melancholy reading, dark in tone and mood. Since peasants are only heard off-stage, there's little merriment; the Polonaise of the third act is played as the guests are seated around the table in their 20th-century finery (oops--I gave something away). Throughout, save for a chorus in Act 1, there's no mirth; this is a story to mull over and over--it can happen in any family.
The Met's production, denuded of almost all furnishing and directed by Robert Carsen, is an otherwise conventional and beautifully sung performance (Fleming, Hvorostovsky, and Vargas), although I believe the character of Tatiana on this Bolshoi set far more easily. The motion picture (Kultur) is a whole different affair--abbreviated and sung by one group and acted by another--but is nonetheless fascinating. Salzburg's version, on DG, is too-brashly led by Barenboim, and the director makes everyone in the opera despicable. A Kirov-made film from 1984 is the most flavorful Russian performance available, with Serge Leiferkus terrific in the title role. This new one, an incarnation of the 2006 production, recorded in September, 2008 at Paris' Palais Garnier, is in a class by itself. Beautifully shot and recorded, it fascinates. But you may not feel that you're getting Pushkin's ideas.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Eugene Onegin, Op. 24 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Andrei Dunaev (Tenor),
Anatoli Kotscherga (Bass),
Mariusz Kwiecien (Baritone),
Tatiana Monogarova (Soprano),
Makvala Kasrashvili (Soprano),
Margarita Mamsirova (Mezzo Soprano),
Valery Gilmanov (Bass)
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,
Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
Written: 1877-1878; Russia
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