Opera at the movies: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

July 12, 2010 at 11:03 pm (Music, opera)

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin and Renee Fleming as Tatiana

Last week, I attended an Summer Encore HD screening of Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. The production, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007, was rather eccentric, but that seems to be the way of things right now where the staging of opera is concerned. I register it as only a minor annoyance, because the singing is what really matters, and the singing was…well, judge for yourself.

Tatiana’s Letter Scene in Act One is a showcase for the soprano; in this case, the amazing Renee Fleming:

Obviously acting is also crucial, especially in an opera like this one, where the passions are at fever pitch for most of the time – certainly from the time that Tatiana realizes she has  fallen in love with Onegin. Fleming’s acting in this scene didn’t completely convince me. I think part of the problem was that a mature woman was portraying a naive, star struck ingenue, a mere girl who is nerving herself to do something very audacious, all for the sake of love. But Fleming’s singing was so gorgeous, it carried the day.

The second act opens with the famous waltz. Here is  Valery Gergiev conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. (It should be mentioned that in the course of Maestro James Levine’s nearly forty year tenure as music director, this orchestra has evolved into one of the world’s finest.)

The second scene of Act Two depicts the duel between Onegin and Lenski. Poor Lenski – he knows he will probably not outlive the day. As he prepares to meet his fate, he sings one of the most poignant arias in all of opera. In it, he recalls the joys of his youth and his steadfast love for (the rather flighty) Olga:

In his review in the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini professed himself astonished by Ramon Vargas’s performance:

‘A complete surprise was the Lenski of Ramón Vargas, the Mexican-born tenor who has made his reputation in bel canto roles and selected French repertory. Apparently he worked slavishly at learning this Russian part, and it paid off in his ardent singing, touched with Latinate lyricism. Bespectacled, buttoned up in a formal coat and tremulous with youthful desire, Mr. Vargas embodied Lenski, Onegin’s naïvely trusting friend, a rhapsodic, serious but not very gifted young poet who adores Tatiana’s vivacious sister, Olga….

Everyone who heard it was likewise impressed, not to mention deeply moved. The in-house audience gave him a tremendous ovation.

Act Three opens with a lavish ball being given at Gremin Palace in St. Petersburg. Several years have passed since the fatal day of the duel. The  beautiful strains of the Polonaise are heard; once again, the staging is strange. Everyone – including the women – wore black. For a festive occasion, it looked distinctly funereal…

As the festivities get under way, in wanders Onegin. In search of diversion, he is suffering from a severe case of ennui. I couldn’t help thinking that someone should have warned him that this might happen if you disparage the love of an ardent, goodhearted young woman and then proceed to kill your best friend shortly thereafter. (In this production, Onegin is played by the renowned Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He was, as could be expected, superb. And plus which…what a hunk! Have a look at his official site.)

Onegin is in for a shock: the wife of Prince Gremin is none other than Tatiana herself. Onegin is overjoyed; he figures that all he has to do is declare his love – newly awakened, of course – for Tatiana, and she will run away with him. But his entreaties are in vain; even though she is still in love with him, she refuses to abandon her husband:

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There are three more Summer Encore HD screenings schedule for broadcast in the U.S. this month: La Boheme, Turandot, and Carmen. The schedule for the 201o-2011 season looks nothing short of sensational. Among other treats, we’ll be seeing:  fabulous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel in the first two operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle – YES!!!

Bryn Terfel as Wotan

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Here’s the Act Three Polonaise from a recent Bolshoi Opera production of Eugene Onegin. This is how I like my opera – sets: lavish! costumes: lavish! And music: sublime:

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