Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky triumph in Tchaikovsky's operatic masterpiece Eugene Onegin, filmed live at the Metropolitan Opera. Their onstage chemistry, emotional singing and outstanding acting make this a very s... more »pecial production. Valery Gergiev, Russia's greatest living conductor, leads Russia's classic opera, with a thrilling account of Tchaikovsky's most intense and passionate score. Robert Carsen's evocative staging is striking and beautiful and highlights the personal drama at the heart of Pushkin's tragic tale of young love unrequited. The opera is introduced on this DVD by the great Russian dancer Mikhail Barishnikov. DVD extras include: Eugene Onegin "In Rehearsal," and "Backstage at The Met," a short documentary presented by Beverly Sills, who talks in person to Fleming and Hvorostovsky about the opera and their working relationship. Filmed in Hi-Definition Widescreen.« less
"Anyone making a short list of the all time greatest operas needs to give serious consideration to Eugene Onegin. Not only is this opera filled with beautiful melodies, it also contains a very dramatic story told episodically, almost as a tableaux of grand scenes. The story is unconventional in that the lovers never get together because they are never on the same page romantically, initially he is too mature for her, then, later, ironically, when he finally becomes interested, she is too mature for him. There is death in this opera, but the real tragedy of Eugene Onegin is the title character's self-centered, unfeeling hubris, and finally his regrets. All of this is expressed through music so achingly romantic it washes over the listener like a wave. Anyone who thinks Tchaikovsky was just a composer of pretty ballets has obviously never seen or heard Eugene Onegin.
I saw this production when it was broadcast to a local cineplex earlier this year. I was so enthralled and excited by what I had experienced(I was high on this performance for days!) that I have been anxiously waiting for it to be released on DVD ever since. The production itself isn't perfect, but the performances are(the Met repeats the success of its La Traviata of a few years ago by reuniting the same three leads with the same conductor), and the result is a Eugene Onegin whose like we are unlikely to see again, at least during my lifetime.
The leads could not be more ideally cast. Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky are what is popularly referred as the complete package, a combination of knockout looks, intelligence, charisma, dramatic ability, oh, and did I forget to mention vocal talent? Hvorostovsky broods handsomely, and his icy detachment is chilling, abetted in no small measure by the depth of his baritone voice. His Onegin is easy to fall in love with, but hard to feel much sympathy for, at least until the end, which is how it should be. Fleming is quite a bit older than Tatianna, but is still youthfully lovely, and capable of exploring the young innocent's tormented emotions. Besides, her age and experience make her character's eventual maturation into a regal and sophisticated woman of the world that much more convincing. Fleming's mood-swinging, ultimately giddy Letter Scene brings down the house,(remember, when I saw this it was in a movie theater, watching the performance via satellite, and the result was just as overpowering). Ramon Vargas has the impassioned, jealous tenor thing down pat, he obviously draws on his experience singing Alfredo, and he makes for a fiery Lensky. The mezzo-soprano who sings Olga(I don't recall her name) is attractive and appropriately flirty. Musically, I'd rate this performance as flawless. Conductor Valery Gergiev's deep understanding of this score is obvious, so is his equally deep love for it.
The production is mostly good, but with some problems. For instance, I don't understand why Tatianna's bed is placed in the middle of the outdoors other than to give her an excuse to fling leaves across the stage at the climax of the Letter Scene. Maybe this is supposed to represent how her writing the letter is her liberation from confinement...if so, well, it works better conceptually than visually. And the ballroom scenes are minimalist to the extreme, lacking any grandeur, which attenuates the effectiveness of the staging. Certain operas, such as Traviata and this one, should always be opulent(this director could take a few lessons from Franco Zefferelli), no matter how modernist operas in general become, because the opulence is an important element of the storytelling. Onegin is supposed to be distanced from and bored by the bourgeois spectacle he sees, by the aristocratic circles he finds himself traveling in, and their values, but this is hard to convey when there isn't any bourgeois spectacle to be bored BY. My feeling, this is minimalism without any understanding of the subtexts of the opera, minimalism for its own sake, just to do something different, an attempt to add intimacy to a scene that isn't really supposed to be intimate. On a positive note, the opening scene is superb, as are the scenes where Onegin rebuffs Tatianna's affections and their final intimate drawing room duet. The duel, staged completely in shadows, is rather unsettling. Here the creepy minimalism makes perfect sense, and the result is one of the most effective opera scenes I've seen in recent memory. For the most part the production works, despite being disappointing in places, at the very least it never distracts from the performances, which might sound like a left-handed compliment but is a compliment nonetheless.
One more thing, concerning the price. I was tempted to knock off a star due to the fact that Deutsche Grammophon has chosen to release this as a two disc set even though the opera is only about two-and-a-half hours long and therefore capable of fitting on one. I have the same complaint about the upcoming I Puritani, which I saw when it was broadcast on PBS, also an excellent performance, very much worth owning, but also short enough to fit on a single disc. Obviously I'm planning to suck it up(for Onegin, and perhaps for Puritani as well) and shell out the money because the idea of not owning this is unthinkable, but in the meantime, color me disgruntled. In the end, though, I have decided to rate the performance, not the price, in which case the five stars is well deserved."
The Met at its finest
Doug Urquhart | Southport, CT USA | 01/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My wife and I watched this performance from the Grand Tier. At the time, we agreed that the staging and performance were superb, and the cameras were unobtrusive, but thought that some of the performances, notably that of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, were a tad 'wooden'.
A few months later, we saw the broadcast performance, and were very pleasantly surprised. Hvorostovsky's performance was far from wooden: with the benefits of the TV camera, we could see every subtle nuance, every expression, every gesture. His was a performance of the highest standard. Bravo!
And here we find one of the differences between televised and live performances - the camera can pick up subtleties which just aren't visible from the back of the theatre (and exaggerate 'operatic acting'as it happens). True, watching a live performance has other advantages - the ambience, the freedom to choose what you want to look at, people-watching, the champagne during the intervals....
In the past, there have been other differences - poor direction, inadequate sound, extraneous noise, but this is no longer an issue. This Brian Large production is basically superb! Picture quality is excellent, reflecting the clever lighting effects on stage. Sound is crystal clear, with enough resolution to distinguish individual applause (ours must have been in there somewhere, I suppose). This recording, in many respects, is even better than the 'real thing'.
Putting technicalities to one side, the production itself was of the highest calibre. All the singers, without exception, were at the top of their form. Aria after aria ended in thunderous applause. Gergiev was amazing, extracting every ounce of emotion from Tchaikowsky's music.
The minimalist sets were, I thought, very clever. I particularly liked the first ballroom scene, where the dancers were crowded together in a slightly too small dance floor flanked by mis-matched chairs. The effect was of an impromptu ball run by a family who were comfortably off, but a little down-at-heel. The leaves, as a symbol of time passing, were very effective, particularly during the overture.
And now, I think, enough time has passed.
This is a superb recording in every way; one to be treasured. "
C. Brown | Berkeley, CA USA | 12/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw the moviecast of this production. For those who don't know, the moviecast was a live performance of a matinee at the Met in New York shown in movie theatres across the country; it had almost all the excitement of being in the Met itself for this unforgettable performance. I just wish I too had a program to tear up and rain confetti down on the singers as the audience at the Met did. Yes, it was that great a performance.
This is a lushly romantic opera about unrequited love and deserves to be far better known than it is.
As for the performance, it's one for the ages and I count myself lucky to have seen the moviecast. I agree with the previous reviewer about the spare sets not always doing justice to the intent of the opera, but the performances are so stellar, it really doesn't matter.
I've been anxiously awaiting the DVD and am very relieved that it's one of only two releases from last season's Met moviecasts."
Unfortunately, it is not "the" ultimate Eugene Onegin, as I
Oleg Semenikhin | Ontario, Canada | 01/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am a big fan of Eugene Onegin and watched this opera several times at various opera houses, including once at Bolshoi (the "old" Bolshoi of 1980s). Therefore, I have had quite high expectations after seeing parts of this performance on TV a few months ago. Yesterday, after the DVD arrived in the mail, I could barely wait to get home to watch it. Honestly, I was disappointed. Please do not get me wrong. This production is still very good, just it is not the ultimate Eugene Onegin I hoped it would be. Hvorostovsky is outstanding, he is definitely the best Onegin I ever heard. At the same time, Fleming as Tatiana is not as good as I expected. After watching this DVD, I listened for a while to my old CD set with Galina Vishnevskaya as Tatiana (Bolshoi, recorded in 1950s), and in my opinion Vishnevskaya's singing is highly superior to that of Fleming. Also, maybe a factor was the awful quality of the English translation, which totally emasculates the rich Pushkin poetry. Sometimes I had the feeling Fleming had no idea what was the real meaning of the words she was singing, and it really spoiled the impression of her acting (wrong gestures, wrong expressions). At times, like in the middle of the first act (Onegin and Tatiana returning from their walk), she seemed not to know what to do and, rather than acting, was looking intently at Hvorostovsky for clues. This was disappointing. Overall, this is a good performance, and Hvorostovski is absolutely brilliant. However, it is not "the" ultimate Eugene Onegin I hoped it would be."
Minimalist Production Helped Elevate "Weakest Link" to Equal
An Opera Fan | New York,U.S.A. | 02/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having seen this production at the MET and HD transmission to the movies, this DVD is outstanding in every way and highly recommended as a worthy addition to your collection. For those who have seen the production at the MET, it will enhance your enjoyment of the individual performances with close-ups of facial expressions of singers and other interesting nuances and other little amusing things you might have missed if you were seated far from the stage. This DVD is specially beneficial to those seeing this opera for the first time because of the elimination of extraneous and distracting things, which allows you to focus on the dramatic and musical inputs of the protagonists more clearly.
Having seen conventional, lavish productions of this opera in major houses, I had some apprehensions at first about how Act 3 would turn out stripped of the customary depiction of the opulence and splendor of St. Petersburg in Pushkin's time. With bare walls and just a few nice chairs around, the fantastic lighting effects and elegant coustumes made a big difference and saved this production from getting too "eurotrashy".
For me, the most important achievement of this production is the righting of the unfair characterization by critics, past and present, of the role of the poet Lenski as the "weakest link" among the principals. From the very first time I saw this opera, I have always felt that Lenski's music was the most beautiful in the opera and that Tchaikovsky identified more with Lenski's creative nature. So, why the "weakest link" tag ? This production provided the answer! That's why this minimalist ONEGIN is particularly helpful to first timers to the opera. By combining Acts 2 & 3 and eliminating the long intermission between the Acts & scenes as well as toning down the distracting, unnecessary elements extraneous to the story, this production allows the audience to focus not only on individual performances but the totality of their artistic contributions as well. In full lavish productions, Lenski dies at the end of Act 2. He is given a courtesy solo bow, and his night is done. After a 20-minute intermission or longer, a shot of vodka, champagne or margarita, the audience is ushered back to their seats for the beginning of Act 3.When the curtain opens, the audience is greeted by the majestic polonaise with elegantly dressed and bejewelled ladies of St. Petersburg's upper crust society, dancers and entertainers at Prince Gremin's palatial digs. The audience then gets to hear his beautiful aria and Onegin's two-minute arioso. Another time break for scene change, and then the final scene with Tatiana and Onegin culminating with the histrionics of their dysfunctional love relationship. End of opera - about one and a half hours after Lenski' death. Poor Lenski is a forgotten man by then. But not in this production! Here, after his death, he goes back to his dressing room, have coffee or something stronger (Bjoerling used to do it,why not), and half an hour later, he goes out on stage to receive the audience's feedback with the rest of the cast. That's the way it should be, and the composer would have loved it.
This DVD may not be surpassed for a long time. The cast is just outstanding, from the three principals who are all at their best, down the line to Lenski's second at the duel scene. Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky will be very hard to top as Tatiana and Onegin because, not only do they possess beautiful voices and fine acting abilities, they also must have spent a lot of time studying and rehearsing together. It shows in their chemistry. Ramon Vargas gave the most vivid portrayal of the poet's persona that I have ever witnessed, and his subtle, well controlled and very effective acting covered a wide gamut of emotions from the lyrical Act 1 through varying degrees of distrust, jealousy and anger, and the heartbreaking resignation in Act 2. He even introduced a little humor in the middle of his ardent declaration of chaste love to the seated Olga by gently pushing the tray of goodies away from her to get her full attention. I missed that one in the theater, and I'm thankful for the DVD. His voice was absolutely gorgeous, and his singing superb throughout. His arioso in Act1 is just as beautiful as Onegin's aria at the end of the act. For some strange reason, Hvorostovsky received only a polite audience response with no bravos. I thought he gave a flawless and terrific rendition of the aria. In Act 2 Scene 1, Vargas dominated the singing in his reprimand of Olga for her flirting with Onegin, his private confrontation with Onegin and the escalation ending in throat grabbing before the guests. He opened the big quintet with chorus with a tender and touching recollection of the happiness he found at the Larin's home as an adolescent and ended the ensemble with a powerful, pained farewell to his beloved Olga. Lenski's aria Act2 Scene2, as sublimely sung by Vargas and lovingly accompanied by the great Met Orchestra under the super conductor of choice, Valery Gergiev, is one for the ages. Vargas just simply dominated all of Act 2. Renee Fleming dominated Act 1 with her wonderful, well nuanced Letter Scene which was warmly received by the audience.
So, is the "weakest link" going to steal the show from the Star? After Act3 Scene1, Lenski was still ahead in my tally. DH was in his best voice, and that's a lot. He must deliver the best performance of his life to catch the poet. Fleming could pass him too if he didn't. Fueled by Fleming's incredible acting and singing, which I have never seen from her before, he caught fire in the last six minutes, and the rest is history. He nailed that last note like Rigoletto's anguished maledezione with all the power and pathos he could muster. My verdict: it's a 3-way tie ! When Vargas came out for curtain calls , the audience did not forget the pleasures he had given them and gave him back a tremendous ovation with confetti as they did the other two stars. Aren't we blessed to have three stars of this caliber with an excellent group of supporting singers, the best opera orchestra in the world under the direction of the genius from St. Petersburg? Get this DVD fast, you will not be sorry.