Archive for the ‘Peter Mattei’ Category

Peter Mattei sings Eugene Onegin

July 18, 2010

This Eugene Onegin was performed at the 2007 Salzburg Festival. It is an Onegin with a great cast and a staging that from time to time gets in the way of the main theme.

The story is placed in the context of the Soviet Russia of the 80’s. The stage director Andrea Breth mobilized a costume designer and choreographer to dig out as many references as can fit onto the stage, falling short only of Brezhnev portrait. The unfortunate result is that the crudity of the privileged apparatchik caste, their unrefined taste and the banality of their sensual gratification occasionally crosses from clear and intelligible into over-stimulated, cliché and caricature. The stage production’s keen enthusiasm to tell us all they know about kolkhoz and sovkhoz, gulag, politburo, etc. loses its sense of proportion and stuffs in more than can be digested along with the main narrative. The gentle thread that ties it all in place is a superb study of Filipyevna by Emma Sarkissián. Her costume and stage movements are styled and, of course, delivered exceptionally well. She is the last surviving element of the Old Russian tradition, with her ever-present silent attention concerned for the wellbeing of every member of the family.

Several other roles are superbly characterized and developed. Joseph Kaiser, a fellow Canadian if I may say, sings Lensky with genuine magnetism for a fatalistic and prematurely tragic end. His singing is emotionally charged, giving the character of Lensky a colour of honest romantic melancholy. His farewell aria, when he burns the photographs, is one of the highest points in this production.

We had the pleasure of having Ferruccio Furlanetto as Prince Gremin, with his rich, thick, deep and wide chest barrel. Unfortunately his stage appearance takes a step too far.  In a uniform with a square foot of decorations stretching over his chest and abdomen and one fist in a black leather glove, he was only a wheelchair and a pair of sunglasses away from becoming Dr. Strangelove’s spitting image. I do not believe that anyone wanted that effect, but that is what sometimes happens with overkill. Renée Morloc as Larina should have been coached to notch down a bit her body language of brawl and snarl. Her dark men’s socks are speaking volumes already. I did not pay attention but I hope that in preparation for this role she had unshaved legs and whiskers unwaxed  for a few months.

Anna Samuil has an astounding voice. It has the power of a red-hot spear point, and she can do with it effortlessly whatever she wants. The only thing is that the phrasing and emotional presence are not always there. Her voice coach should take her to Majorca or Ibiza for a prolonged bashing and dashing in night clubs and other merry places. Her Tatyana is inconsistent and stiff. Sadly Ms. Samuil couldn’t take the cues from Mr. Mattei and often projected her heartbreaking sighs into empty air while handsome, passionate and responsive Mattei waits for her to interact.

Ms. Samuil looked quite comfortable in her awful, white, petty, fur coat and loud make-up as the wife of Gremin, which is not where Tatyana belongs. She holds back in her emotional expression, and her final scene with Onegin needs to be rehearsed much more and toned down into something lot more subtle. Both of them are capable of that.

Peter Mattei takes his Onegin through at least three different stages in developing this character. Appearing as a self-confident, arrogant, attractive man he draws attention to himself without doing much more than wearing his sunglasses or fiddling with the keys of his “Moskvich“ convertible. He then develops into a heartless, unscrupulous scoundrel to whom nothing is sacred. And at the end he becomes a “relentless apparition” [OT: I couldn’t resist but to quote this gorgeous phrase from the brochure]. Mr. Mattei inhabits each of those stages of his character with full, conscious presence, sticking to his natural talent for acting and delivering his Onegin with a passionate surrender. As the tragic end draws nearer, the edges of the curves in his phrasing expand into a snarl of desperation. Bravo, Mattei, you are the Boss.

There is a magnificent scene at the beginning of Act 3 in which Onegin arrives at the ball in this stage of  mental and physical  “relentless apparition”. He grabs the attention of a janitor to tell a reluctant listener the story of his life. Begging and bribing a man with a mop to listen to him, we see the depth of sorrow of Onegin’s barren, loveless, wasted life. Describing the subtleties of this scene cannot do justice to it. It has to be seen. (It will be here as soon as I learn how to clip this from the DVD into this comment. Sadly no one on Youtube find this fragment worthy of posting.)

The extras in this production are dressed and choreographed with excessive attention to detail which from time to time makes unnecessary, elaborate digressions into the territory of the vices, corruption and crudeness of the people who failed at the attempt to make the world a better place. With the benefit of a short-term historical memory we all may agree that the host country of this Onegin does not have much credit or clout mocking anyone’s attempt at making this world  a better place. I agree that this is a bird’s-eye-view comment and may not have much to do with the review of Eugene Onegin, but still. . .

Let me not forget to mention Sergio Morabito as the dramaturge who may be partially responsible for a few exaggerations. The mayor of Salzburg should inaugurate a Festspiele award for special achievements in theatrical poetry. For 2007 the lucky recipient should be the one who came up with the idea that puddles of water cover the floor of the banquet hall. Simply brilliant! I recommend that the award consist of a fresh sachertorte and a bottle of good champagne for demonstrating an ability for a subtle and subdued voice in speaking the theatrical language.

Maestro Barenboim may be at par with Valery Gergiev but not equal to the subtlety of Gennady Rozhdestvensky  (see earlier post ” Eugene Onegin: New York vs. Baden-Baden ”). Occasionally   the singers are toppled, and in general a little more elegiac tone would suit rather than a pompous, overly dramatized crescendos.

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