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Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Kirov Opera/Valery Gergiev. RFH, Wednesday, May 21st, 2003 (CC)


It seems remarkable that, after cancelling a performance of Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar at short notice due to illness of two main cast members, the Kirov and Gergiev could pull out a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin as powerful and as taut as this one. The orchestral playing was first class, and the overall impression was that of a superb opera company unified in its Tchaikovskian vision. Having heard Part Two of Berlioz’ Trojans (‘The Trojans at Carthage’) at the Coliseum very recently (just five days before), the impact of the difference in standards and musical vision between the two opera companies was huge.

The Kirov’s Chorus, in the event, almost upstaged the principals. From the very first (singing as peasants returning from the fields), one was made startlingly aware not only of the beauty of the sound and the sheer confidence, but also of their affinity for this music: they were completely at home, and remained so throughout the opera. The element of discipline extended to the orchestra. Technical excellence is to be taken for granted, but the way Gergiev teased, caressed and encouraged them to give their best meant that the privileged audience was able to be transported straight to the heart of Tchaikovsky.

The singers had a lot to live up to, however, and things here were more mixed. Baritone Vladimir Moroz, taking the part of the titluar hero, began strongly showing off his big, smooth voice. Unfortunately, as the evening went on, he became less and less convincing. Even in the first act, when Tatiana pursues him about the letter she has written, he sounded outclassed, and by the end of the opera, when he is reduced to ever more ardent pleading, it was difficult to believe his stated emotions.

The fact is that, without exception, the women soloists outclassed the male. From first to last, Irina Mataeva’s Tatiana was deeply touching, and what is more she looked the part: youthful and beautiful. Her Letter Scene was yet another highlight, touching in the extreme. Time and time again Moroz’ Onegin was found wanting. And just as Mateava eclipsed Moroz, so Ekaterina Semunchuk’s creamy contralto (Olga) upstaged Daniil Shtoda’s forced tenor as Lensky (whose confrontation with Onegin in Act 2 Scene 1 was also less than dramatically gripping).

Of the remaining roles, Leonid Liubavin’s Triquet was strong and full of timbre. Mikhail Kit as Gremin was simply superb as he described Tatiana as his salvation in Act 3 Scene 1. His great bass really seemed to enter into Gremin’s character.

The true stars of the evening, though, were the Kirov Orchestra and Gergiev. Gergiev encouraged the orchestra to give their all, something they seemed to do willingly. The ball scene (Act 3 Scene 1) was lavishly impressive, an aural picture of pure elegance; the dawn opening of the dual scene was stormily dramatic. The rich string sound at the beginning of the second act (double-basses as rich and echt-Russian as one could desire) silenced criticism. With an orchestra so strong in all departments how can a reviewer single out individuals? Maybe the solo clarinettist’s sensitivity in Act 3 Scene 1…

This was a very special evening that reminded one of Gergiev’s magnetism and charisma, the excellence of his forces and, of course, of the sheer genius Tchaikovsky displayed in the writing of Eugene Onegin.

Colin Clarke



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