Netrebko, Kwiecien bring Met’s “Onegin” revival to vivid life
The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin debuted in 2013, with soprano Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin, and tenor Piotr Bezcala as Lenski. It returned to the house Thursday night, with the two leads intact, and proved even better than the first time around.
Not that it wasn’t great before. This is one of the Met’s more successful new productions of the recent seasons, with Deborah Warner’s handsome, glowing sets replacing Robert Carsen’s much loved previous staging.
Warner’s approach is straightforward and true to the drama of the antihero Onegin who bewitches the young Tatiana, provokes his friend Lenski into a fatal duel, and only too late realizes the profound opportunities he has wasted in his life. With Paula Williams directing this revival, the characters’ reality and humanity came through with all their virtues and failings. That is where the depths of this opera lie, all of which are captured in Tchaikovsky’s sensitive score.
Netrebko and Kwiecien, through their singing and acting, embodied their roles to an even more vivid degree than four years ago–even when they weren’t singing. In the original run, Netrebeko tended to disappear when she wasn’t singing, and Kwiecien didn’t seem entirely comfortable in his acting. Thursday night both were consistent dramatic presences, building their characters and their relationships, even when the musical focus lay with others.
Both are powerhouse singers, with rich, charismatic voices, yet each also modulated their voices with great skill and interpretive nuance. Netrebko expressed an affecting sense of impulsiveness and conflict throughout the performance, transforming the character from a breathless young woman in Act I to a woman who, in Act III balances the dignity of her duty and genuine affection for Prince Gremin with her heartsickness over her enduring feelings for Onegin.
Her commanding singing in the Letter Scene supported the dramatic feeling of a mercurial young woman finding a way not only to articulate her feelings to Onegin, but to herself. She brought cumulative focus and weight to her phrases, ending with a powerful musical and dramatic certainty. Netrebko also used the slight dryness of her lower register in a near conversational manner during the performance, which effected an immediacy to the character that bridged the theatrical gap between stage and audience.
Mostly through his voice, but also through his witty and relaxed stage manner, Kwiecien carried Onegin’s self-involved insouciance. There was the feeling that he was enjoying the sound of his own singing—Onegin always seemed pleased with himself. This was especially strong in his elegant “Kogda bï zhizn,” where the character closes Act I by telling Tatiana that he is not a good man to marry—Kwiecien expressing the complexity of Onegin’s egocentric self-deprecation. In Act II, when the conflict with Lenski arises, his transformation from amused to nearly murderous was gripping. Kwiecien’s performance of “Uzhel ta samaya Tatiana” in Act III proved a bit too theatrical at first, but the concluding duet between the two characters was sincere and deeply felt.
Alexey Dolgov took over the role of Lenski from Piotr Bezcala. Dolgov’s romantic tenor made him ideal as the poet Lenski, singing with well-shaped fervor, every bit of his music seeming focused on his love for Olga. He nearly stole the show with his “Kuda, kuda, kuda vï udalilis,” where the character expects imminent death and reflects on the loss of youth and love. Dolgov’s singing drew in the listener, turning a public performance in front of thousands into a moving, private experience.
As Tatiana’s sister Olga, mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova had an odd metallic edge to her voice in her first act aria, “Ja nye sposobna,” but this had disappeared by the time the grand party of Act II got underway. Larissa Diadkova as Filippyevna, Tatiana’s nanny, and Elena Zaremba as the girls’ mother provided excellent support.
Bass Stefan Kocan’s Act III soliloquy as Gremin was a bit lugubrious to start, but as he sang about his love for his young wife Tatiana, Kocan settled in and concluding with a companionable warmth and a palpable feeling of an old man’s satisfaction with how his life has turned out. The only notable vocal weakness was tenor Brian Downen’s Triquet—who sounded thin in comparison to the rest of the cast.
As good as most of the cast was, the Met Orchestra and chorus were their equal partners. Led by Robin Ticciati, the orchestra was much more than an accompanying group, they were a pleasure to hear in and of themselves. Their sound from the opening moments of the first introduction was as fine a Tchaikovsky sound as one will hear at the Met—warm and mellow, with bright colors from the winds and stately strength from the brass. The introductions to each act were so lovely that one felt a momentary pang of disappointment when the curtain went up.
Ticciati maintained comfortable tempos and keep the line moving through Tchaikovsky’s phrases and transitions, without mannerism or exaggeration. Except for a jumbled Act I quartet, everything was clear. The ballet music was vital enough to make one feel like dancing, and Kim Brandstrup’s choreography was an essential part of the satisfactions of this production. All evening, the Met orchestra added their own singular character to this superb performance.
Eugene Onegin continues through April 22. From April 12, Peter Mattei sings the role of Onegin. metopera.org; 212–362–2000.