Posted by: gdevi | October 6, 2013

Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky opera

Today, I took my Russian lit students to see the Metropolitan opera of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin scored by Tchaikovsky. The State Theater in State College broadcast the opera live from the Met in HD. It would be rather expensive to drive three hours to New York, find parking, perhaps stay overnight and see the show at the Met. So, though I am sure the Met setting would be fantastic, this HD live telecast was equally good, and the ticket was only 22 dollars. State Theater has very good acoustics. It was an incredible, incredible, incredible production of a great work of literature and music. My students loved it.

The orchestra was conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev, and I found the conducting exquisitely beautiful–Tchaikovsky at his melodious best–psychologically truthful, and emotionally direct and resonant like all Russian classical music. Memorable performances include Lensky’s aria to Olga, played and sung by the wonderful young Polish tenor Piotr Beczala; Tatiana’s modest, loving and trembling letter to Onegin offering her love, sung and played by the great Russian soprano Anna Netrebko–just a beautiful beautiful performance; Onegin’s arrogant, condescending and callous rejection of Tatiana played and sung by the great, great Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien–a fantastic actor and musician!–and the final duet by Tatiana and Onegin, in complete contrast. Tatiana is serene and saddened by Onegin’s late recognition and offering of love to her–Tatiana is married to Gremin. I loved you then, and I love you now, she tells Onegin, but I am an honorable woman, so don’t dishonor yourself in my eyes. The way Anna Netrebko walks away from Onegin in the final scene of the last Act after she asks Onegin to get up from the floor when he kneels before her is just stunning; she is reeling and stumbling, stately and sublime, all at the same time. It is an incredible scene. What an accomplished actress. Onegin, equally grandly played by Kwiecien, plays the title character in the final act with more expression than before; Onegin is destroyed and unhappy at his awareness that he had rejected Tatiana and dismissed her modest, sweet, loving offer of love years ago out of vanity, arrogance, ego and false pursuits. He is completely aware that he had carelessly destroyed the closeness of love that had come in search of him, and that love was not lust or appearances or parties or dances or wealth or anything of the kind, but purity and serenity, and that Tatiana had offered him these things modestly and quietly and he had rejected her unkindly. He can only grieve; I liked Kwiecien in the title role immensely. He has really understood Pushkin’s flawed protagonist; a man just this side of self-awareness, playing roles, often knowingly, who thinks this far, but not far enough. These were beautiful performances, and we sat transfixed through them all without batting an eyelid. What great performers!

The opera is in three acts, and Act One in the Larin estate sort of warms you up for the story and the performances, but Acts Two and Three are simply arresting with their exquisitely controlled narrative pacing, beautiful, melodious music, and vivid performances. The opera is sung in Russian, but it all comes through. There is a reason why opera is often called the highest art form; it really is. Everything is so hyperreal in an opera.

We found the sets and the production very beautiful and true to Pushkin’s spirit. One of the most beautiful moments in Pushkin’s poem is the description of the Russian winter. It was totally awesome how they recreated the hoary, blue-black winter gloom on stage. Totally beautiful!

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