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S & H International Opera Review

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin, Thèâtre du Châtelet, Paris, January 24, 2003 (FC)


Continuing the "Saison Russe" in Paris, Valery Gergiev and his countrymen move from success to success. They sent a splendid helping of vocal talent from the Mariinsky Theater last month to help out with re-staging the Châtelet's splendid 1984 Coq d'Or. The entire team has now arrived for a three-week residence, staging an important new production of the almost-forgotten Le Dèmon of Anton Rubinstein. The mini-festival continues with an enthusiastic reading of Tchaikovsky's most popular opera, Eugene Onegin.

The centerpiece of all of this activity is the conductor himself, Gergiev, who created a world-class opera company in St. Petersburg from the shards left over from the old Soviet institution. Putting Moscow's famed Bolshoi Opera in the shadows with his international visibility, he attracts Russia's best talent and the positive results, and a few negatives, are on display in Paris these days. The positives include the dynamic, unfailingly expressive conducting of the maestro himself, which is the engine Gergiev & Co. His feeling for the music combined with a free-flowing, natural musicianship put him at the top ranking of international conductors today, especially when it involves the Russian repertory.

Directing the Mariinsky and leading his group on frequent, peripatetic showboat tours, he reminds one of those old vaudeville acts where the man keeps several plates twirling at one time. The brilliant band of mostly young Russian singers assembled for Onegin is vivid testimony to his abilities to galvanize singers and put on a show. The talented musicians he has in the pit are further proof.

But, sometimes, on the world's international stages, some have come to notice certain cracks in the edifice. The all-important question of balance between the orchestra and singers, for example, was not adequately addressed in this Châtelet run. Apparently not giving himself time to get the feel of the hall, he has consistently allowed the sound of the orchestra to wash over the singers, all of whom are stalwartly gifted and should not have a problem being heard. Fuzzy attacks and some mushy details makes one wonder if his orchestra is being given the fullest rehearsals. Both of the less than engaging Mariinsky productions are not up to the standards Parisians have grown accustomed to seeing on stage.

The Onegin stage design, a co-production with Châtelet and done by the well-known French team of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, seemed to be accomplished on a visibly small budget. But the stage images, however simple, were not attractive and the stage movements were only fitfully meaningful. The costumes, of the traditional folk variety, did not suggest much imagination. The level of singing, as we have come to expect from the Mariinsky, was of a very high order. Soprano Irina Mataeva offered a broad-scaled portrait of the young heroine, Tatiana, and her "Letter Scene" was impressively sung. Mikhail Kit, as the Prince Gremin, offered a generous and warm baritone and a character rich with detail and humanity in his last act aria. This could inadvertently help to explain Tatiana's decision to marry him rather than the handsome young Onegin. As sung by the lanky Vladimir Moroz, his agile baritone was sometimes thin, often scratchy, and his character two-dimensionally portrayed. The Lensky was the young tenor, Daniil Shtoda, who repeated his success from the recent Aix-en-Provence Festival in the same role. The chorus and supporting cast members made strong contributions with particular notice for a finely spun Monsieur Triquet delivered with style by French tenor Jean-Paul FouchÈcourt.

But it is ultimately Gergiev's conducting that illuminates the theater and this hugely talented man cannot help but carry the audience along on his infectious music-making voyages. Onegin will run until February 4 if you can manage to find a ticket. France Musiques will broadcast one of the evenings on 5 April. For further information, you can look at http://www.châ


Frank Cadenhead



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