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Tchaikovsky, Yevgeny Onegin: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski. Teatro Real de Madrid. 7 & 8.9.2010. (JMI)

Production from Bolshoi Theatre Moscow.
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov.

Sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov.

Costumes: Maria Danilova.

Lighting: Gleb Filshtinsky.

Onegin: Mariusz Kwiecien/Vladislav Sulimsky.

Tatiana: Tatiana Monogarova/Ekaterina Shcherbachenko.

Lenski: Alexey Dolgov/Andrew Goodwin.

Gremin: Anatolij Kotscherga/Alexander Naumenko.

Olga: Margarita Mamsirova/Oksana Volkova.

Larina: Makvala Kasrashvili/Irina Rubtsova.

Filipievna: Nina Romanova/Emma Sarkisyan.

Zaretski: Valery Gilmanov.


Production Picture © Javier del Real

The Teatro Real starts its 2010/11 opera season with Gerard Mortier as the  new artistic director and there are people around already talking of the beginning of a Mortier era. Considering the huge political influences around the big opera houses in Spain, I wonder whether Mr. Mortier’s contract will get to its maturity: politics and culture never were the best partners and there is quite a long experience of both in this country.

The  season opened earlier than usual, with a visit by a complete company from abroad, in much the same way as happened  recently at the Santander and San Sebastian festivals. In Madrid the chosen partner was the Bolshoi Theatre from Moscow, a company of unquestionably greater prestige than Liège Opera and Moscow’s Helikon, who were invited by the afore-mentioned cities. The result was a rather uneven performance with more than one important error taking the shin off its impact.

This Onegin by Dmitri Tcherniakov has been seen in the last two years in both Paris and Milan and it also visited London’s Covent Garden last month. I how it fared in this places since the Madrid stage conditioned it rather noticeably. Tcherniakov brings the action to modern times and offers an almost unique setting; simply a dining room with a large oval table. The stage direction is spectacular, one of the very best I have seen in recent years and the three first scenes in Larina’s house are excellent, regardless of whether Tatiana's letter scene takes place in her bedroom or around the large dining room table. What matters most is the result and I should stress that in these three scenes, including Onegin’s “lesson” to Tatiana, Tcherniakov is outstanding theatrically and very respectful to text and music. I found the last two scenes in Prince Gremin’s mansion most appealing too, particularly the last scene between Tatiana and Onegin, presented simply as a reverie on Tatiana’s part and again with the big oval table present.

Having said this, the scenes at Madame Larina’s party and the duel were definitely more than questionable. Here Tcherniakov seems to produce his own show, forgetting both libretto and score, to portray Lenski as a kind of an idiot, the object of the sonorous laughter from all the guests. Then, Tcherniakov decides to replace Monsieur Triquet with Lenski himself, singing the couplets in a ridiculous and buffo fashion. The duel scene also takes place in the dining room and everything becomes a genuinely out of place parody. The worst thing of all is having to listen to Lenski’s most beautiful aria with people moving around him and with Olga looking for her lost ear ring. This was a seriousl mistreatment of some of the most beautiful vocal music in the whole history of opera.

On top of this, the Madrid stage gave the production a major problem that largely conditioned the whole performance, as I’ve said already. First of all the set is placed some 5 meters upstage of the pit and then, in the first five scenes the table was located at the back of the stage. All this meant that the voices were hard pressed to reach the audience most of the time and it was only in the last two scenes that the table was moved forward: after which everything improved considerably. Even so, it does seem to me that if Dmitri Tcherniakov can develops a greater respect for the text, the music and actually for his audience, he could easily become one of the world’s major figures in stage direction.

Sadly, the musical elements in the opera were not convincing at all at the premiere - almost as if rehearsals had been minimal and paying no attention to the problem of where the singers should placed on stage: there was a huge imbalance between orchestral sound and the singing. Dmitri Jurowski, younger brother of Vladimir Jurowski, was responsible for the musical direction and so for the poor result. His reading was fairly routine, at worst as if the orchestra was playing on autopilot, with serious excesses in volume, especially in the woodwinds. This was a real disappointment and overall the Bolshoi Theatre’s orchestra and chorus of Bolshoi were not brilliant and a long way below the quality that the Mariinski had shown on previous occasions in Madrid.

Something must have happened after the premiere, since the following evening things worked much better in the pit, with a much better balance of sound and a better execution from both conductor and orchestra.

At the premiere the title holder was Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, who offered a good performance, although I prefer him in Don Giovanni or Count Almaviva, where I consider him second to none. On this occasion he was not the exceptional singer that I was expecting, but he was the only one in the cast who did not suffer from the constraints of the production, since his vocal projection is truly outstanding. In the second cast Vladislav Sulimsky left much to be desired. He was not a convincing interpreter of Onegin, with a poorly projected voice, which was inaudible more than once.

Tatiana Monogarova was Tatiana and she was at her best in the final scene, the only one she could sing at the front the stage. All the rest of her score was delivered from some 20 metres behind the pit and this meant that her voice did not come over with due clarity and volume. This is a pity, because I believe that in other circumstances, she could have been much more appreciated. On the following evening, the Tatiana was the young soprano Ekaterina Shcherbachenko, who was by far the most interesting singer in the second cast, both in vocal and stage terms. This young soprano rose to fame last year by winning the Cardiff Singer of the World contest , although her CV in the program does not mention it among her prizes. She cuts a very attractive figure and boasts an appealing soprano. Her voice projection is excellent, and along with Kwiecien she was the only singer who did not suffer because of the production. Her performance was particularly remarkable in the first part, while I found her still too light for the more dramatic last scene. What a wonderful Iolanta she could be!

Alexey Dolgov had to fight with the concept that Tcherniakov had of poet Lenski. Vocally, he is rather a light tenor with a small voice. resulting almost in inaudibility more than once, as result of the excessive orchestral sound. He was quite good in his aria however. The Australian tenor Andrew Goodwin had already sung in Spain and did not leave any greatly positive impression. His voice, not his figure, is more suited to M.Triquet than to Lenski and he is not up to the task in a large opera house like the Teatro Real.

Anatolij Kotscherga was Prince Gremin and he proved that vocally he is no longer precisely at his best. He is still sonorous in the middle range, but there is nothing much left at the bottom. Alexander Naumenko was not a great Gremin either. He sounded more like baritone than a true bass and his low register was inaudible also.

Margarita Mamsirova was a well suited Olga, with a dark voice, as was also Oksana Volkova in the second cast.

The Teatro Real was almost sold out on both days. At the final bows the best reception went for Kwicien, Monogarova and Shcherbachenko. Dmitri Jurowski was warmly applauded but with some isolated boos and Tcherniakov was booed by many in the audience.

José M Irurzun

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