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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Eugene Onegin (1879)
Irina Udalova (mezzo) ... Larina
Maria Gavrilova (sop) ... Tatyana
Yelena Novak (alto) ... Olga
Galina Borisova (mezzo) ... Fillipyevna
Vladimir Redkin (baritone) ... Eugene Onegin
Nikolai Baskov (tenor) ... Lensky
Aik Martirosyan (bass) ... Prince Gremin
Alexander Arkhipov (tenor) ... Triquet
Vladimir Krasov (bass) ... A Captain
Alexander Korotky (bass) ... Zaretsky
Vladimir Sokolovsky (baritone) ... Leader of the peasant’s chorus
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre/Mark Ermler.
Recorded live at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow on 18th October 2000.
DTS 5.1 Stereo, DD 5.1, LPCM Stereo
TDK DV-OPEON [2 DVDs: 157:00]

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With one or two very minor reservations, this release is absolutely magnificent and very well worth obtaining, provided you have the same attitude towards opera recordings as I do. It is a re-creation of a 1944 production of the opera, then conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashaev and directed by Boris Pokrovsky.

All scenery and costumes are based upon the 1944 originals, and the best part of this whole production is that there is not one jot of the malaise which seems to have overtaken current productions. That is of the Director/Producer who tries to be clever, and ignores the historical age in which the opera is set. Thus we can have modern dress, cars coming out of the scenery, gangsters etc., an approach which for me totally ruins the sterling work of singers, musicians and conductor.

The main star here is Mark Ermler, well known for his dramatic performances of the Tchaikovsky ballets with the Royal Opera House Orchestra a recording of which used to be on the ROH label. There are no histrionics, just a good-natured smile once or twice or more, plus a clear flowing beat and an instinctive understanding of the dramatic points of Tchaikovsky’s masterly score. He has the ability to pass on this understanding to his co-workers, who produce first class results for him.

Are there any misgivings? Well, the recording is not hi-fi by any of the normal definition of the word, but captures the somewhat cavernous acoustic of the Bolshoi quite well, with no major problems. The voices come over clearly, allowance being made for occasional drop in level as though something has masked the microphones; nothing serious though. I was beginning to think that even at the Bolshoi, the current vogue for having all orchestral bodies sounding as though they had come from the same source, had hit home. I was therefore extremely gratified by the raucous trumpets at one or two dramatic highspots in the drama (the end of Tatyania’s Letter Scene being a good example) which tended to swamp most of what else was going on – even the relatively rowdy audience.

As this production was recorded on one night, it has to come warts and all. The Bolshoi audience is in general reasonably well behaved apart from a few bronchial supporting "singers". It does however, create a hell of a din at the conclusion of Acts with one or two of the particularly loud members meriting the same treatment as Lensky.

Enough of the complaints – the singers, once one has got over a slight tendency to rawness of tone (generally thought to be a normal Russian characteristic), are absolutely first class, with the principals giving superb renditions of Tchaikovsky’s masterly score. The principals, Onegin, Tatyana, Lensky, Olga, Larina and Filippyevna, are all visually and vocally first rate. Any production should be proud to have a group of artists such as this. No superstars, just good-looking and good-sounding singers.

At the beginning of Act III, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking with the Bolshoi production department doing themselves proud. We are left in no doubt that we are in a Russian Grand Ballroom; the effect is wonderful. I am sure that the surroundings made the singers give that little bit extra, and spurred them all on to greater things. This is not to say that the scenery elsewhere is not also superb, it is, but the difference of the sets, compared with what went before is so dramatic as to be well worth mention.

As far as opera DVDs are concerned, I have not enjoyed one so much for a very long time. If traditional productions are for you, then try this one – you will not be disappointed.

John Phillips


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