In Andrea Breth’s staging at Salzburg we meet the titular hero
as early as during the orchestral introduction, slumped in a chair
watching TV, showing an eternal railway filmed from an onrushing
train, a scene that recurs at the beginning of the following acts.
The ageing Onegin contemplating his unsuccessful journey through
life? That he has himself to blame for his failure we know all
too well already and Peter Mattei makes it even clearer through
his uncommonly forbidding portrayal of the haughty snob. Whatever
attracted Tatyana to him? Not until the last act does he realize
his mistakes and as the magnificent actor he is Peter Mattei then
reveals deeper feelings formerly hidden behind the arrogant façade.
Since Anna Samuil’s matured Tatyana by then is Onegin’s equal,
socially and mentally, their heated confrontation becomes a real
high-spot that remains on one’s retina for a long time.
The action has been
moved to fairly recent times and we encounter a rather decadent
Russia, short on joy, short on warmth, rich on cynicism and
heavy drinking. The festive polonaise is danced by a sole sloshed
man whose sense of rhythm has long since deserted him. If this
is the 1980s, as the booklet notes suggest, we are probably
witnessing the disintegration of the Soviet society. But there
are always risks when a director transports the action to another
time and in this opera the central duel scene is totally out
of place in (almost) present time – an anachronism if ever there
was one. The outcome of that scene is still tragic and one can’t
help feeling pity for poor Lensky who dies on a stage filled
with water. The strangest thing of all is when Filipyevna, who
has had a strongly dominant function throughout the first act,
goes to sleep in a newly dug grave. One associates this in a
vague way with Erda in Siegfried – but why?
It’s short on romance
as well and Tatiana’s letter scene, well sung and well acted
though it is, falls flat when she types the letter to
Onegin. All in all there were several things that robbed this
gloomy but beautiful score of some of its magic. It was however
saved by wonderful lush playing from the Wiener Philharmoniker
under an evidently inspired Daniel Barenboim. We also get good
singing and acting from both principals and cameos. Of the latter
Ryland Davies, in the 1970s and 1980s one of the finest lyric
tenors around, now in his mid-sixties was a wonderful tragicomic
Triquet with the voice still in fine fettle. Ferruccio Furlanetto
was a classy Prince Gremin and Ekaterina Gubanova was no mean
Olga. Impressive for his sensitive acting as well as fine lyric
singing was Joseph Kaiser’s Lensky. A long scar on his cheek
seemed to tell us that he probably had been involved in fights
over similar matters before.
Anna Samuil was
young and innocent looking and her letter scene, in spite of
the typewriter, was deeply affecting and Peter Mattei is possibly
the leading Onegin in the world today. He dominates the stage
not only through his physical appearance but even more through
his expressivity and, of course, the magic beauty of his voice.
I saw him on TV a couple of years ago in a French production
of this opera where he was just as good.
Brian Large supervised the video production expertly but there
were a couple of places that the stage became messy, whether
due to the direction or the camera work I can’t tell. The sound
Not a production
that I could buy wholeheartedly but the singing and acting was
certainly on a very high level.