Archive for July, 2011

Nostalgia

July 5, 2011

Eugene Onegin Staatsoper Vienna, June 2011

Staatsoper Vienna, 13 June 2011.

During 10 days of the first half of June, Eugene Onegin was performed 4 times at the Staatsoper in Vienna. I attended the last performance. Another blogger by the name of Zerbinetta also reviewed this opera, and her review can be found here. It was curious to see another production of Eugene Onegin with Peter Mattei in the title role. The one performed at the Salzburg Festspiele 2007, was reviewed earlier on this blog here. There is similarity between the two productions in choosing the time period and similar mise-en-scene.

While the Salzburg 2007 production abounds with sarcastic references to the crudeness of the soviet bureaucracy, Staatsoper Vienna’s production does not develop towards this edge and brings the focus back into the emotional field where it naturally belongs.

The opening scene introduces a stage divided into two planes. Closer to the audience is the one where the story unfolds. In the background, where an imaginary world of nostalgia is set, it is snowing. Couples in slow motion dancing or standing still, wrapped in each others arms, are the characters of this imaginary world. This parallel duality underlies the emotional context where reality and daydreaming are intertwined. The background plane is replaced by an asymmetrical vertical array of cold neon tubes in the ball scene, where Monsieur Triquet appears as a pop singer past his prime, dressed in a flashy Las Vegas-entertainment-style suit with dark glasses and bright silver shoes. Although this description fits some legendary names of the pop culture, any individual similarity is carefully avoided towards the creation of a generic image.

The mise-en-scène throughout is reduced to the bare minimum. In contrast to the elaborate set in the Salzburg production, the banquet table here is merely an outline with the lobsters encased in it, like insects in amber.

Eugene Onegin Staatsoper Vienna, June 2011

The final scene between Onegin and Tatiana takes place at a huge black marble staircase. In real life such a staircase usually leads to a memorial monument to the unknown fallen hero. The fallen hero here is hope. There are no dancing couples in the dark snowy night behind.

Perhaps a notch more could have been done on the side of choreography. At times characters were lacking purpose and standing idle. The chorus, on the other hand, was thoroughly choreographed and supported by the virtuosity of real acrobats, bringing dynamism and fullness as a counterbalance to the sheer power of the key voices. Nadia Krasteva as Olga appeared as the most colourful character. Shaped up as a hot Levantine  woman bursting with the joy of life in her tight crimson outfit, Olga appeared as if she had sprung up from a Turkish bazaar.

More character should have been invested into Onegin’s rather plain suit. The monthly brochure of the Staatsoper Vienna says that this is a house début for Mr. Peter Mattei and Ms. Maija Kovalevska in her role as Tatiana.

Petter Mattei

Peter Mattei, the most beautiful male voice I have ever heard, comes from a different sphere into this world. This is the first time I had an opportunity to hear Mr. Mattei live. The richness of the emotional spectrum was delivered with unwavering control and delicate sensibility. He sings effortlessly and truthfully as if the Absolute itself speaks through his voice. I should stop here (before I completely lather with foam) and urge readers to check for themselves.

A young Latvian soprano, Maija Kovalevska, appeared in the role of Tatiana, drawing several “brava” from the audience. This is the fifth year of her international career, and this petite fragile-looking young woman projects over the orchestra with surprising force and capacity. Her engagements outside her native Riga started in Verona with the roles of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and continued with Mimi in La Boheme at the Met.

I would also like to mention the names of the remarkable singers Ain Anger as Prince Gremin, Marius Benciu as Lenski, and Zoryana Kushpler as Larina.

Unfortunately, the overall impression is that the whole piece comes across as a little too lightweighted. The emotional drama appears only to the extent that the individual artists invested into it and most of the characters are underdeveloped. A more resolute and conceptually clear guidance from the director seems to be lacking.

Under the conductor Michael Güttler the orchestra topped the singers on occasion. Too many rectangular shapes on the stage took away some of the compositional balance which potentially could have been achieved. Quite a number of mise-en-scène solutions from the Salzburg 2006 production of this opera are paraphrased and quoted here with a lesser effect.

I shared a box at the performance with two elderly Viennese ladies who had not seen the Salzburg production. To my surprise, and in spite of some sexually explicit breakdancing on the stage, they told me that they enjoyed the performance very much. I tip my hat to their broad-minded openness, with a wishful sigh that their peers in Toronto may be less eager to deprive themselves of experiencing something new in the opera theatre.           

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