[Met Performance] CID:327650
New Production
Eugene Onegin {104} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/13/1997.

(Debuts: Marianna Tarassova, Irina Arkhipova, Antonio Pappano, Robert Carsen, Michael Levine, Jean Kalman, Serge Bennathan

Metropolitan Opera House
March 13, 1997
New Production

P. I. Tchaikovsky-P. I. Tchaikovsky/Shilovsky

Eugene Onegin...........Vladimir Chernov
Tatiana.................Galina Gorchakova
Lensky..................Neil Shicoff
Olga....................Marianna Tarassova [Debut]
Prince Gremin...........Vladimir Ognovenko
Larina..................Jane Shaulis
Filippyevna.............Irina Arkhipova [Debut]
Triquet.................Michel SÚnÚchal
Captain.................Denis Sedov
Zaretsky................Yanni Yannissis
Dance...................Marcus Bugler
Dance...................Victoria Rinaldi

Conductor...............Antonio Pappano [Debut]

Production..............Robert Carsen [Debut]
Designer................Michael Levine [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Jean Kalman [Debut]
Choreographer...........Serge Bennathan [Debut]

Eugene Onegin received nine performances this season.

Production gift of the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Fund for Lincoln Center

Review of Peter G. Davis in New York Magazine

Exercise in Austerity

The Met's production of 'Eugene Onegin' takes risks that play surprisingly well. If only the singers' performances lived up to Robert Carson's inventive direction. Intermission disputes were heated at the Metropolitan Opera's new "Eugene Onegin" production, with the boos and bravos just about evenly divided at the end-an inevitable, and refreshing flurry of controversy as the Met continues to reconsider its conservative image and gingerly experiments with a diversity of production styles. Even those familiar with the work of Canadian-born director Robert Carsen, a ubiquitous presence on the European opera scene only now making his Met debut, could hardly guess how he would treat "Onegin." One reads about a Carsenized "Otello" in Cologne featuring the Moor as a white man, Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West" in Ghent made to look like a silent-movie starring Joan Crawford, and Britten's "Midsummer Night's Dream" in London staged on a gigantic queen-size bed with green sheets. "I do wish Carsen would start directing operas instead of merely decorating their peripheries," one exasperated British critic recently grumbled.

Working with two favorite teammates (set and costume designer Michael Levine and lighting designer Jean Kalman), Carsen could scarcely be accused of excessive exterior decoration in this austere presentation of Tchaikovsky's "lyric scenes," as the composer preferred to call his adaptation of Pushkin's famous poem. In fact, there's not much around the edges to inspect at all, and many probably felt cheated at not seeing so much as a chandelier at the fancy ball at the Gremin Palace in St. Petersburg, or even a shrub in the garden at Madame Larina's country estate. The whole opera, according to the Carsen-Levine vision of it. takes place within the confines of three bare walls - a large box containing little more than the costumed characters and a few pieces of furniture, all strictly in period style.

Quite a lot happens onstage of course, and those sensitive to music as it relates to action and character in opera probably had even stronger objections than Met regulars who like to applaud scenery. Carsen's most controversial stroke was to join Acts Two and Three without a pause, beginning the festive polonaise even as Onegin stares down at the corpse of his friend Lensky, whom he has just shot in a duel. Then, instead of elegant couples dancing at Prince Gremin's, we watch an impassive Onegin being groomed by valets and setting off on his purposeless life as a bored social lion until fate brings him to the ball, where he remeets and falls hopelessly in love with the now-married Tatiana. With this invention, some insist, Carsen arrogantly hurls himself between us and the opera Tchaikovsky wrote. Perhaps, but I found the device a dramatically effective gloss that tells us something relevant about Onegin while accurately mirroring the feverishly hectic dance music, even if the composer did have something more conventional in mind at this point.

The production's daredevil sense of economy worked even more impressively earlier, in Tatiana's bedroom as the girl writes her secret love letter to Onegin - the opera's key lyrical scene and the incident in Pushkin that originally fired Tchaikovsky's imagination. Here the all-purpose "box" becomes a cloudless night sky with a fingernail moon looking down on a solitary brass bed, night table, and candlelit writing desk, all surrounded by a carpet of autumn leaves through which Tatiana dreamily wanders as she becomes increasingly gripped by her adolescent passion. It's a breathtakingly romantic scene, gorgeously lit by Kalman, and a gift to a soprano who could seize the moment, project Tatiana's heartache, and sing this piercingly beautiful music with radiance.

That is precisely what Galina Gorchakova cannot do, and her colleagues aren't much better. If the Met's new Onegin fails to convince, the fault lies more with weak singing and musical direction than with outrageous directorial offenses. I admit that the cast is disadvantaged by the set to the extent that it tends to draw voices up into the flies rather than direct them straight out into the auditorium. Still, that could not entirely explain or excuse Gorchakova's cloudy tone, inexpressive phrasing, and frumpish acting. Vladimir Chernov makes many beautiful vocal points as Onegin, but his elegant baritone has always sounded undersized in this house, no matter what the production. As Lensky, the Met's prodigal-son tenor, Neil Shicoff, returns after seven years' enforced absence in Europe, his voice a trifle thicker but his art no deeper than when he left. Vladimir Ognovenko clothes Gremin's lovely aria in a small, raspy bass with a nonexistent low register.

There are telling cameos by Michel SÚnÚchal as the fussy French tutor Triquet; Marianna Tarassova as a flighty Olga; and, as Tatiana's motherly nurse, Irina Arkhipova, the Bolshoi's great leading mezzo-soprano of yesteryear, now over 70 and making a belated Met debut. Antonio Pappano has conducted several fine opera recordings lately, but his Met bow was a sore disappointment. Not only did he fail to find much color or lyricism in the score, but he also never succeeded in establishing smooth rapport between stage and orchestra pit. There's more to this new "Eugene Onegin" than the present musical team can show us, and perhaps its qualities will come more clearly into view when the production can be revived with a truly distinctive cast and conductor.

Chapter: Eugene Onegin/New Production

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