Eugene Onegin - Metropolitan Opera, 23 September 2013
Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera is more about the occasion than the opera. There were gowns galore, celebrities of varying wattage, roped-off VIP areas and even the odd genuine opera singer to add to the festive vibe. Outside on Lincoln Center Plaza, orderly rows of seats were set up for a big screen relay. Inside there were extended intervals, formal wear in the cheap seats and the occasional glimpse of Heather Graham holding court amongst the glittering visitors.
Deborah Warner's production had been beset by problems, not least the absence of the director herself. While she was recovering from an operation, Fiona Shaw squeezed in directorial duties in between her other commitments. On top of that, the show had been revised since its original and troubled ENO incarnation - when and by whom it is not clear. Gone was the first act's lowering barn, replaced by a rustic winter garden/greenhouse structure. London's oddly abstracted duel scene has been made more realistic-looking. And with the Met's budget for peasants and vegetables easily topping ENO's meagre allowance, the whole thing has more of an epic expense-no-object traditional perspective. Still no bed in Tatyana's bedroom, but even the Met has to call cut somewhere.
Adding to the general impression that nothing's changed since 1963, we had scene change breaks so lengthy that some customers actually mistook one of them for the interval and skipped out.
Pre-show caffeination proved an inadequate weapon against Gergiev's soporific and often sloppy conducting, a waste of the well-prepared orchestra.
But there were compensations. Star billing had been accorded to Anna Netrebko. Although her rich plummy tones made her Tatyana more worldly than any amount of dipped-chin book clutching could counter, she exemplified the soulful romantic. Eugene Onegin's punch lies in the listener's ability to empathise with the tortured Tatyana. Netrebko made it easy to care.
Mariusz Kwiecień was a gloriously and properly enigmatic Onegin. The production's one innovation is the luscious smacker he plants on Tatyana's lips after dismissing her and her letter (paralleled by a reciprocal kiss at the very end). Why? Only Kwiecień knows. A generally finely-sung account was marred by a few rough edges, but Kwiecień is at least an interesting performer, and he has the same chemical bond with Netrebko that Villazón once had.
Piotr Beczała's Lensky was outstandingly well sung, and he clearly understands that Lensky must be an impetuous and passionate counter to the cool Onegin. Yet, as usual, his performance seemed overly studied, a mechanical heart thinly veneered in humanity.
Other parts were creditably taken in the sort of way that would make you happy to hear the singers again without wishing to seek them out.
I have some photos, but they will have to wait a few days.
photos © Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera