Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin – Metropolitan Opera, 2007 (Part 2: It's all Fun and Games till Someone Challenges You to a Duel)

Directed by Robert Carsen, one might be tempted to place this production of Eugene Onegin into the regie category, but other than the sparse sets (and all those chairs), there is nothing shocking happening here (no dancing cowboys!) 

It’s a beautiful, character-driven performance. Hvorostovsky is just Hvorostovsky—handsome, silver hair, silver voice—and isn’t that enough? I mean, who could ask for more? It’s hard to dislike him, but he does manage to make Onegin a condescending jerk. (Not to mention petulant, rude, and self-centered.) Lenski is pretty hot-headed too. He wears his low self-esteem on his sleeve, while Onegin tries to “bravado” his way past his own self-doubt. 

So in a way, they are just boys who got out of control. It’s probably inevitable that they eventually would have a falling out. On the other hand, the incident seems pretty minor. So, I can see why a director would look for more motivation for their conflict (such as homosexuality, for example. See “Brokeback Onegin.”) But here we have the surface emotions: friends competing for attention, messing with each other and carrying the joke just a bit too far.

If you can call a duel beautiful, this one is. It’s mostly all done in silhouette. Lenski sings his gorgeous aria in a warm purple light before dawn, and the sky brightens as they prepare to face off. The sun rises as Lenski falls dead. One does listen to their duet, thinking, “Snap out of it, you two! There is more living for both of you to do. This is just stupid!” They're singing "Can't we just forget this and move on? No. No." And I am going, "Yes! Yes!" Unfortunately, they don’t take my advice, and Lensky dies.  

The Duel

Onegin changes back into his “flash forward to the present” clothes during the Polonaise. His solemn, methodical actions contrast with the happy, showy music. You can see him taking on the pain of killing his friend. He even looks paler by the end of the interlude. The scene becomes sort of brown/green/gray.

So, does Onegin really love Tatiana now? Does he really believe she hasn’t gotten over her infatuation (she hasn’t)? All that pain and world-travelling hasn’t changed him much. He’s still pretty self-centered, thinking she’d be willing to ditch her life for him now. (He’s demanding and possessive. I kept thinking “abuser.” So, in my opinion, she was very smart not to give in.) All he left Tatiana back then was her letter and humiliation. Now all Onegin has left is his own letter; and the curtain falls on his own humiliation. Paybacks can be hell.

The final confrontation.

It’s a sad story, but so beautifully sung and acted. Plus, Fleming and Hvorostovsky have great chemistry! This is my first Onegin, and I am working through another version now. I highly recommend this performance.

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