Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is an excellent production and a superbly sung Eugene Onegín.
TCHAIKOVSKY Eugene Onegín; Mark Ermler, cond; Maria Gavrilova (Tatyana); Yelena Novak (Olga); Vladimir Redkin (Eugene Onegín); Nikolai Baskov (Lensky); Aik Martirosyan (Prince Gremin); Irnia Udalova (Larina); Alexander Arkhipov (Triquet); Galina Borisova (Filipyevna); Bolshoi Op O & Ch TDK (2 DVDs: 157:00) Live: Moscow 10/2000
Although this DVD was filmed at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater in 2000, the actual production is a revival of a legendary one by Boris Pokrovsky first seen in 1944. This means romantic realism at its most impressive: multilayered sets that fill the huge stage with brilliant
ballrooms, restful, shaded parks, and warmly intimate home interiors. Light is dramatically deployed to show the progress of time; costuming is historically accurate, and often colorful; stage props that add to the mood are carefully chosen and always appropriate. Unlike numerous recent operatic productions emanating from Russia, there are no houses of cinder blocks, interpolated rape scenes, or soldiers shaved bald and dressed up like Uncle Fester. The audience takes repeated opportunities during the evening to signify its pleasure, enthusiastically applauding the artisanship on display.
The acting is staid, but staged effectively. Gavrilova, Novak, Baskov, and Arkhipov appear at ease in their parts, moving confidently, looking in the right direction, employing reasonable facial expressions that mirror internal emotional processes, etc. Redkin is stilted, and Martirosyan only concentrates briefly at the beginning of his aria’s second verse on staying in character. The others, such as Udalova and Borisova, glance occasionally in the direction of whomever they’re ostensibly addressing, but their eyes return as though lodestones to the audience. The makeup was presumably regarded as effective enough for those present in both body and spirit, but even medium shots of Borisova can’t make this attractively middle-aged woman appear as the very elderly maid of Tchaikovsky’s libretto.
The singing in this performance is excellent. There isn’t a poor voice in the lot. Redkin is perhaps too consistently heavy in his sound, but the basic sound itself is attractive. Novak’s alto is smooth, and Baskov is another of the growing number of young Russian lyric tenors that gives hope to a continuation of a great tradition. Gavrilova has a few edgy moments in the opening phrases of the Letter Scene, but is otherwise as fine as one could wish. Martirosyan’s bass is wonderfully rich and effortlessly produced. Even the smaller parts are well handled, with Udalova especially noteworthy for the mellowness of her Larina.
What I do miss from most of the performers is an intensity of vocal characterization. Baskov is ardent in act I (“Kak shchastliv, kak shchastliv ya!”), but there’s no sense of hypersensitivity in this poet; and his act II aria, “Kuda, kuda” is prosaic. Novak, a bit over-lively in person, never lightens her mature-sounding alto sufficiently to convey either youth or high spirits. Redkin is stolid rather than suave in the rejection scene of act I, and resorts to hectoring in the love scene of act II. Martirosyan only rarely gives us a glimpse of Gremin’s inner poet, though as mentioned above, he always sings persuasively. It’s left to Gavrilova to deliver a performance of truly formidable intensity. After the deliberately banked fires of her initial stage appearance, the Letter Scene is magnificent both in its guileless wealth of emotion and its careful orchestration of response. She is by turns the grand lady, the scornful beauty, and the tragic heroine to perfection in act II. I only wish she had been partnered by the likes of Pantelimon Nortsov, whose alternately worldly wise and fervent Onegín graced this very same production when it was first unveiled. He recorded it in 1946, along with the finest Lensky ever recorded, Ivan Kozlovsky, and the most sonorous Gremin, Maxim Mikhailov. I also admit to preferring Melik-Pashaev’s pacing in that recording. Ermler is fine, but he rushes some of the more introspective moments more than I would like. The camera work is sensitive and varied. Visuals use a viewing ratio of 4:3, and all three standard sound formats (LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1) come across well.
Subtitles are supplied in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish.
Despite my reservations expressed above, this is an excellent production and a superbly sung Eugene Onegín. I can recommend it without hesitation, though I would also suggest the purchase of that 1946 audio recording—now in refurbished sound on Naxos 8.110216/7.
Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Eugene Onegin, Op. 24 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Maria Gavrilova (Soprano),
Vladimir Redkin (Baritone),
Nikolay Baskov (Tenor),
Aik Martirosyan (Bass)
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra,
Bolshoi Theatre Chorus
Written: 1877-1878; Russia
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