RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Eugene Onegin - Lyrical Scenes in three acts Op 24 (1879) [151:00]
Eugene Onegin – Bo Skovhus (baritone); Lensky – Andrej Dunaev (tenor); Prince Gremin – Mikhail Peternko (bass); Tatyana – Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano); Olga – Elena Maximova (mezzo); Larina – Olga Savova (mezzo); Filipyevna – Nina Romanova (mezzo); A Company Commander – Peter Arink (baritone); Zaretsky – (baritone); Monsieur Triquet – Guy de Mey (tenor); Chorus of De Nedelandse Opera
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Mariss Jansons
Stefan Herheim (director); Philipp Fürhofer (set design); Gesine Völlim (costume design); Olaf Freese (lighting design); Misjel Vermeiren (screen direction)
All regions NTSC; 16:9 aspect; Audio Dolby digital and dts digital surround
subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch
OPUS ARTE OA 1067 D DVD [151:00 + 30:00 extras]
Eugene Onegin is a prime example of that group of nineteenth century operas and cantatas based on a great literary work but not attempting to interpret every aspect of it or to include every part of it. I have only read Pushkin in translation but it is clear that the very individual ideas of Stefan Herheim, the director of this production, derive as much from the original poem as from the “Lyrical Scenes” that Tchaikovsky drew from it. It is a production whose beginning is in a sense its end. Instead of it opening with a garden on the Larina estate we see the ball with which the last Act commences. This is updated to Russia at the present time, with the chorus dressed as for a party given by an oligarch - presumably Prince Gremin. Onegin, newly returned from his Byronic wanderings, looks lost and confused. All this is accompanied by a recorded version of the écossaise from the last Act. The scene then changes imperceptibly to the real opening of the opera, this time with the music played by the live orchestra. Here and for most of the opera we see both the original scene, the characters of the opera as they are in later scenes, and minor characters and chorus in a mixture of costumes from various periods of Russian history. This may sound over-complex, and perhaps at times it is. However, to my great surprise for almost all the opera both the action as originally conceived and what is in effect the director’s commentary on it are both clear and relevant. Some scenes are almost unbearably moving, particularly the Letter Scene, where we see not just Tatyana and the nurse but also Onegin to whom the letter is addressed. In a wonderfully imaginative moment we then see Onegin writing - presumably the Onegin of the last act expressing similar feelings - and in due course to similar music - to those of Tatyana in the earlier scene.
Not everything is as good as this. The parade of Russian history which takes over at one point is very deftly arranged and very entertaining but I cannot see its relevance. The excellent documentary provided as an “extra” shows the clear scepticism felt by the conductor about aspects of the production. I can readily understand this. Simpler productions closer to the libretto have indeed worked wonderfully well and no doubt will continue to do so. I remember in particular the heavily cut Russian film version from the 1950s (?) which may creak in cinematographic terms but presented the Byronic world to perfection. Nonetheless the production seen here has much to offer.
Musically it is even more than that. The cast is very close to perfection, with Bo Skovhus in particular wholly believable as Onegin. He is obviously older than the character should be, especially in the earlier scenes, but this fits in well with a production in which the later reactions and emotions of the characters are brought out so clearly. His strange “Gordon Ramsey” wig is distracting but I have seen worse. Krassimira Stoyanova sings with conviction and clarity as Tatyana. She avoids the heavy Russian vibrato which makes some singers of the role seem older than their stage mother. Andrej Dunaev is a positive Lensky if without the liquid legato that some older Russian singers of the role possessed. Mikhail Petrenko is a satisfactory Gremin. The minor parts are all well taken, with especial pleasure being given by a properly French-sounding Monsieur Triquet from Guy de Mey.
The greatest musical pleasure comes however from the orchestra and chorus. Mariss Jansons is in his element here, directing a performance which avoids both undue heaviness and theatrical hysteria. I would happily listen repeatedly blindfold to the musical part of the performance if I had found the production distracting or annoying. In the event, and helped by a very satisfactory TV presentation which must have been very difficult to achieve with so much happening on the stage, I found it riveting both musically and dramatically throughout. Although I look forward to seeing many more traditional stage productions, even if I do not expect all to have the same musical values as are achieved here, this is a version which anyone who loves this most personal of operas needs to see and hear.
A version which anyone who loves this most personal of operas needs to see and hear.