Tchaikovsky's 'lyric scenes' without an Onegin
David H. Spence | Houston, TX | 11/14/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Filmed in the then new opear house at Glyndebourne, this production of Eugen Onegin starts off quite promisingly, with Yvonne Minton in a fine appearance as Mme Larina alongside Ludmila Filatova as the nanny, accompanying, then following the two sisters on their opening duet.
Sets, not unlike the EU production on dvd, are minimal. Louise Winter is charming, coquettish as Olga, and Prokina intensely involved as Tatiana. Its such an intensity, though to seem like Tatiana at times is seized by a mystical vision of sorts, while reading about the sufferings of lovers in romance novels - something that perhaps only the Mormons can explain. Andrew Davis, thus far, lends a nice, even flow, to accompany his singers, and the peasants' chorus is heard complete, unlike with the competing version (not that I miss it there all that much).
Martin Thompson and Wojciech Dabrowicz enter as Lensky and Onegin, both with their long hair, certainly appearing both of them to be of the arts-and-letters crowd. Thompson proceeds to give a warm, attractive performance as Lensky, but Dabrowicz's Onegin immediately seems two-dimensional, for the heavy emphasis on the foppish, dandy characteristics of the anti-heroic protagonist, and such as he presents himself here that at best the two grown up enough sisters would politely brush off, or at worst but very plausibly, giggle at.
Apart from a few intonation problems from Prokina, the following two scenes go well, Filatova also acting up a storm in her supporting role, but the Onegin of Dabrowicz, in his dismissal of the Tatiana, still having us wonder why anyone was so interested in the first place. Elena Prokina gives Tatiana an otherworldly fey quality to the part of Tatiana, less warm and realistic than Boylan, but attractive in her own distinctive way and noone to argue with in terms of being on idiomatic terms with the language - she and Filatova the two true Russians in this cast.
Stage direction becomes more and more of a problem in the final two acts. The country ball scene at the start of Act Two looks more like one than the staging for EU, but one finds in having to give an individual narrative to each chorus member, that eventually the focus on the main characters gets lost. One or two chorus members look so similar for the formal ball scene in Act Three, so that any insight by taking this approach is also lost.
The confrontation between Lensky and Onegin never quite works up any head of steam, compared with the other version. The formal details of a duel of that period are worked out most meticulously for the fateful scene in question, Martin Thompson sings his lament persuasively; the duel happens offstage. It is such that would have only given Dabrowicz a merely throwaway moment of sympathy or compassion, had the scene ended anything like the one from the EU dvd. Davis, by this point, is still efficient on the podium, but leading blandly, lets much slip by undercharacterized.
The Act Three Polonaise begins as a bouncy ballet, with foppish and other cute mannerisms overdone. Frode Olsen sings the Gremin aria, looking the rough-hewn soldier still, but adding little insight beyond that. Dabrowicz sings painfully out of tune for the entire act, and drags down the still clearly more sympathetic Tatiana along with him as such too. Davis ends Act Three, Scene One, without reference to the ecossaise that is cut in both modernist versions. With all the above, I can only give this Onegin a guarded recommendation at best, and point to my review of the EU dvd of Eugen Onegin with Orla Boylan and Vladimir Glushchak.
For the traditionalists, the Kirov version with Sergei Leiferkus (to originally have been on a Philips Gergiev set on cd with Prokina, before Hvorostovsky and Bychkov stepped in) and Yuri Marusin as the two leading men, and with a very fine, patrician Gremin (Vladimir Okhotnikov) and cute Olga (Larissa Diadkova) alongside, but bland Tatiana, gets my nod. Yuri Temirkanov, early mentor of Gergiev, conducts the score affectionately, and with a little heavier tendency to sentimentalize, thus without quite the increasingly palpable authority of Rozhdestvensky. He is not listed in the credits on the vhs I checked out once, but it is obviously him, as the camera makes clear to us between scenes.
Mirella Freni, opposite Wolfgang Brendel and a stentorian Lensky (Petr Dvorsky), in Chicago, and very much as seen also in Houston the same year (1985) makes a thoroughly attractive Tatiana, if vocally, narratively painting with thick strokes here and there. This may still be out on vhs, but has not made it out on dvd yet. Freni is also heard even a little more effectively on DGG cd's, opposite the deftly turned Thomas Allen and led by crackling, fiery Dresden forces under James Levine."
Tchaikovsky would be pleased
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 10/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In my 1960 edition of Donald Grout's History of Western Music he dismisses Tchaikovsky in a single paragraph; stick to pleasant little Ballets, he suggests, it's all you're good for. Music in the middle of the 20th Century had been hijacked by Academia. Webern was in. Lyrical tonality was verboten. When Stravinsky owned-up to adoring Tchaikovsky, considering him the most talented of all Russian composers, alarm bells should have gone off in the halls of music schools everywhere. A fatal disconnect between musical establishment and audience was in full swing. In the clearest case of intellectual arrogance you will ever see, Tchaikovsky as a composer of "serious" music was denigrated for years. But things have changed. Eugene Onegin is an example of why.
This lyrical Opera, an homage to Tchaikovsky's beloved Mozart, lacks the bloody melodrama of Verdi and Puccini or the cosmic bluster of Wagner. Rather it sets Pushkin's tragic tale of doomed love to music of gentle beauty, incorporating stunning choruses and thrilling dances. The libretto by the composer and Konstantin Shilovsky portrays Russian society with a Tolstoy-like breadth and perceptive observation.
In the youthful Tatyana, Tchaikovsky creates a nearly three-dimensional character, portraying her love for Onegin and her inevitable despair at its tragic end with a dramatic rightness reminiscent of Mozart. Elena Prokina is an inner-directed and vulnerable Tatyana, singing the role beautifully. She exhibits an authentic grace, while in the famous Letter scene exhuding post-adolescent angst only someone like Tchaikovsky could create. Wojciech Drabowicz makes a fine Onegin with the coolest Operatic hairdo I've ever seen (Buster Poindexter?). Martin Thompson is Lensky, Louise Winter sings Olga. They are both fine. The entire cast is quite good, navigating the Russian Libretto like seasoned pros.
It is the Graham Vick Production staged at the wonderful Glyndebourne Festival Opera that is the real star of this excellent DVD. It is amazing how wonderful Opera can look and sound when stripped of all superfluity. The sets have an almost Shaker spareness yet appear as Russian as Vodka, caviar and blini. A wondrous simplicity inhabits this production. A true love for this Opera. It is worth purchasing for that alone.
The sound is simple two channel Dolby Digital stereo. Good enough for this British Channel Four Television production taped in 1994. If you are spoiled by multi-channel surround sound like DTS 5.1 (as I am) you might miss it, but only slightly. It is clear and spacious enough.
This is a good DVD that is definitely worth owning if you are building an Opera collection. I treasure all of the Glyndebourne productions I own. They do it right!