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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Eugene Onegin

La Netrebko returns opposite two substitute baritones in Tchaikovsky's drama.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Anna Netrebko in the Act I "letter scene" from Eugene Onegin.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
Anna Netrebko returns to the role of Tatiana in the production she created in 2013. Her Onegin(s) will be Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei. They are substituting for Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who has declared himself unable to perform due to cancer treatments.

What is Eugene Onegin?
This is an intimate chamber drama, set among the moneyed Russian aristocracy as they deal with conventional problems between men and women. Tchaikovsky was half joking when he suggested Pushkin's drama as an operatic subject. He failed to anticipate that this would be among his most loved and longest running stage works.

What's Eugene Onegin about?
Although Eugene Onegin is the title character, this opera is really the story of Tatiana. She starts the opera as a young, innocent, passionate girl and journeys to womanhood through her on-again off-again relationship with the handsome but callow Onegin. He then kills his friend and rival Lensky in a duel, and is exiled. By the time he returns and realizes he's really in love with her, it's too late--Tatiana has married for money.

What's the music like?
In addition to orchestral showpieces like the famous Polonaise, the score continues Tchaikovsky's approach of fusing Western musical structures to traditional Russian choral music, creating music of tremendous vitality and beauty. The composer provides some of his most sensitive music to accompany the love triangle between Onegin, Lensky and Tatiana, and she is one of the most memorable heroines in Russian opera.

Who's in it?
We already mentioned the utterly fabulous and fearless Anna Netrebko, the biggest soprano in opera. Here, the dark-eyed diva stars as Tatiana, who  must choose between the safety of a bourgeois marriage and a whirlwind romance with the title character, played (on different nights) by the aforementioned baritones. Alexey Dolgov is the hapless Lensky. Robin Ticciati conducts.

How's the production?
This new production (seen originally at the English National Opera at the Coliseum in London) is by director Deborah Warner. This is a conservative staging, with period details and costumes that look drawn from a catalogue. (Writing for the Daily Telegraph, British critic Rupert Christiansen commented that it may be safely recommended to the "primmest maiden aunt with the most conservative tastes.")

Why should I see it?
The explosive pairing of Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Hvorostovsky made this one of the hottest tickets of the Spring season.  Although he has withdrawn, his replacements are the singers who created these parts when the production originally took the stage in 2013-14. Onegin is also a damn good Russian opera and one of Tchaikovsky's most splendid musical creations.

When does it open?
Eugene Onegin makes its return on March 30, 2017. A Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for April 22, 2017.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
Dresden Staatskapelle cond. James Levine (Deutsche Grammophon, 1989)
This is not exactly an idiomatic cast for Onegin, but this Dresden recording does have the luxuries of a superb orchestra conducted by an in-his-prime James Levine. Mirella Freni is getting to the end of her career here, but she remains a passionate Tatiana. Tenor Neil Shicoff, whose characterful singing marked a stellar career, is Lensky. The veteran baritone Thomas Allen sings Onegin with a welcome world-weariness suited to this character.

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