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Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" Outdoors at the Met Opera's Summer HD Festival
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Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" Outdoors at the Met Opera's Summer HD Festival

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Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Summer HD Festival
(Summer HD Festival Web Page)
At the
Metropolitan Opera
(Met Opera Website)

Outdoors at the
Metropolitan Opera House

Anna Netrebko as Tatiana
Oksana Volkova as Olga
Piotr Beczala as Lenski
Mariusz Kwiecien as Eugene Onegin
Alexei Tanovitski as Gremin
Conductor, Valery Gergiev

Composer: Peter Tchaikovsky
Libretto: Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Shilovsky
(after Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse)
Production: Deborah Warner
Director: Fiona Shaw
Set Designer: Tom Pye
Costume Designer: Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Video Designers: Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer: Kim Brandstrup
Live in HD Director: Gary Halvorson
Music Producer: Jay David Saks

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 1, 2014

Eugene Onegin (1879)
Original Recorded Production, October 5, 2013
(Read the Synopsis of Eugene Onegin).

In the third Summer HD Festival film I’ve seen in a row, presented by the Met Opera, with soprano Anna Netrebko and baritone Mariusz Kwiecien, Eugene Onegin, the finale of the Festival, was inherently breathtaking. This is a recent production, directed by Fiona Shaw, from Deborah Warner’s original design (Ms. Warner had to leave the production for health reasons). I was immediately struck with the videographers’ black-white videos of the Russian countryside, that serve as scene openers, offering a glimpse into the barren, ice and snow-covered landscapes. The vivid close-ups of the Larin estate bring the audience immediately into an expansive working kitchen, where cooking, cleaning, and preparation for winter entertaining take place. Madama Larina and her daughters’ nanny (both uncredited in the Festival program) sing solos eloquently, in the opera’s impassioned Russian, of past love, desire, and the aging of the heart. Also featured in Act I are the two daughters, Tatiana (Ms. Netrebko) and Olga (Oksana Volkova, mezzo-soprano). Tatiana dreams of romance, through her novels, and Olga is sprightly and vivacious, affianced to the poet, Lenski (Piotr Beczala, tenor). Lenski arrives with Eugene Onegin (Mr. Kwiecien), who will now live on an estate nearby, and the men sing of a comparison of the sisters, deciding who is the finest and fairest, who exudes feminine physique and personality.

In Tatiana’s letter-writing scene, Tom Pye’s spartan, spare set glistens, as if the floor were made of ice, a metaphor for the cold, calculating Onegin and the bleak Russian winter-scape. Ms. Netrebko drew loud accolades, not only from the filmed Met audience, but also from the outdoor opera fans, as she crumpled draft after draft of a love letter to Onegin, the sudden catalyst for her passion. She sits at a desk and rolls on the floor, beside herself, with vocals that reach the stars. When Onegin returns to hand back the unwanted love letter, he’s condescending and callous, singing in rich baritone phrasing. His hand and facial gestures match those of his previously reviewed, filmed operas from this Summer Festival. In Tatiana’s Act II name day revelry, when Lenski is insulted by Onegin’s betrayal of friendship, as Onegin flirts and dances endlessly with Olga, the infamous duel scene follows. This scene offers Mr. Beczala an expansive aria lament, as he awaits his dueling partner and former friend. Large fallen trees, in the crunching, Russian woodland, set the scene for the renowned tragedy. In the Act III St. Petersburg scene, as Onegin discovers the now sophisticated, stately Tatiana, married to Prince Gremin (Alexei Tanovitski, bass), much of the tension is visual, as well as vocal, with Tatiana’s conflicted heart. Mr. Tanovitski sang with presence and power.

Choreographer, Kim Brandstrup, and costume designer, Chloe Obolensky, were highly showcased in the Act II and Act III, rousing country dance and stylized, St. Petersburg ball. Ms. Obolensky’s long, flowing, silk dresses with bustles in Act III were especially stunning. Mr. Pye’s set includes long, lacy curtains and stage-high, door-windows, in the Act I and Act II country scenes, as well as a regal ballroom and urban columns in the Act III city scenes. On a production note, I was quite disappointed with the decision to have the final scene, in which Tatiana now rejects Onegin, occur outdoors amidst snowy columns, rather than in her study or bedroom, as so many Onegin ballets have imagined. Passion in heavy winter coats, muffs, and hats is not terribly charismatic. However, Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Kwiecien did heat up the spartan scene. Thanks to the design of the Summer HD Festival films, the film audience is treated to close-ups of the Met Orchestra, here led by Maestro Valery Gergiev, of the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet. While one of his hands ruffled and fluttered, the other whipped the baton through Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous score. Jean Kalman’s lighting offered nuanced moodiness throughout. Kudos to the Met Opera for providing the Summer HD Festival. The live in HD Series continues throughout the year, indoors, in selected movie theaters on specific calendar dates.

Mariusz Kwiecien in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin"
Courtesy of Met Opera Website

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at