Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dress Rehearsal, Eugene Onegin, Met, Sep. 19, 2013

Piotr I. Tchaikovsky

Dress Rehearsal, Met, September 19, 2013

Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Tatiana: Anna Netrebko
Olga: Oksana Volkova
Lenski: Piotr Beczala
Onegin: Mariusz Kwiecien
Gremin: Alexei Tanovitski

Production: Deborah Warner
Set Designer: Tom Pye
Costume Designer: Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Video Designers: Ian William Galloway, Finn Ross
Choreographer: Kim Brandstrup

REVIEW by Berta
The following review has been written by Berta and it was first published on Piotr Beczala's Friends Fanpage. It is now published here by the kind permission of Berta.

EUGENE ONEGIN, MET OPERA, Final Dress Rehearsal - 19.09.2013

It's been many years since I last saw Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and the thought of seeing it at the Met again, with a true dream cast, has been on my mind since the new season was announced. So I already have my ticket for October 1, and of course there is the HD performance on October 5, to look forward to. But like all opera lovers, I am greedy. That just wasn't enough. Then, a very special person gave me a ticket for the final dress rehearsal before opening night. The Met doesn't fill up the house for the dress. There are special sections for the technical staff, sections for the costume department, special sections for the musical staff. My seat was 5th row, dead center, with no one in the first few rows to block my perfect view!

There was a palpable excitement in the auditorium. This was truly something to look forward to. And with a cast that included Anna Netrebko, Mariusz Kwiecien, Piotr Beczala, and conducted by the great Valery Gergiev, I think "Dream Team" has taken on a whole new meaning!

The sets were light colored, and airy, like a conservatory in Russia of the 1800s. The time period has been moved to the late 19th century, around the time of the opera's premiere. The costumes were beautiful, and very flattering, for a change. The cast was dressed impeccably. The ladies looked suitably middle-to-upper class, and Messers Beczala and Kwiecien looked as if they had just stepped out of the current (1800's) version of Vogue magazine! And Netrebko's red gown in the third act is stunning!

But the voices! Voices like these, singing their music, must be what every composer envisions, when he or she sits down to write music. Mariusz Kwiecien is the finest Onegin I've heard. He looked every inch the part of the supercilious, pseudo-aristocrat, looking down his nose at the Larin family, and their lovely older daughter, who has the misfortune to fall in love with him. In the Playbill, Anna Netrebko is quoted as saying that Mariusz is a "stage animal." I believe it. He inhabits his roles. He absorbs the stage. I've seen him do comedy, drama, and tragedy. I don't think there is any role in his fach, that he can't bring greatness to. And he sang magnificently! I was told that he was ill, but one would never know it. His elegant, lyric baritone voice was beautifully produced, and in the first act, when he returns Tatiana's letter to her, and tries to let her down gently, telling her he can offer her only friendship, not love, the gentleness in his voice is perfect.

Anna Netrebko is at this time, Queen of the opera world. She just is. She's gorgeous, and sings like an angel. But she's also quite a moving, effective actress. She's not afraid to take risks, and most of the time, they work perfectly. Hard to believe in "Netrebko the wallflower," but, as Tatiana, she was shy, anxious, naïve, schoolgirlish, and in love with a man who could never love her the way she was. The famous Letter Scene could hardly be bettered, in my opinion. Beautifully acted, and exquisitely sung. The third act is all Mariusz and Anna, and they pulled out all the stops! At the end, Onegin is shattered, and so are we.

And now, to Lensky. The poet. Looking every inch the sweet, gentle man in love with the younger Larin sister, Olga, Piotr Beczala was at first high-strung, kind of giggly, playful, a man in love. But as we see in the second act, he is also a passionate man, driven to unreasonable jealousy, and unable to stop his downward spiral. The second act of Eugene Onegin is one of the finest examples of glorious singing, coupled with first rate acting, which builds to its expected unhappy end. Lensky's famous aria, "Kuda, Kuda, kuda vy udalilis" could have been written for the glorious voice of Piotr Beczala. He began very softly, and as his hope not to die, rose, so too, did the plangency of his voice, quieting down again, at the inevitability of his future. The audience was so still during the aria, it was almost as if the auditorium was empty. No one wanted to miss one golden tone. Until the last note of the orchestra died, and the spell was broken. Then the eruption of applause, bravos, whistles, even some stomping began. This was greatness. The duel scene was magnificent. Many people have questioned the fact that Onegin and Lensky used rifles, instead of pistols. I don't know the reasoning behind this, unless it's to make a bigger stage effect. But the fugue sung by Onegin and Lensky, as Lensky lays dying in his friend's arms, is heartbreakingly beautiful. I was shaking for several minutes at the end of Act 2.

I must also mention Oksana Volkova, as Olga. Having seen her debut last season, as the slutty Maddalena in the Las Vegas Rigoletto, I was unprepared for her youthful, pure Olga. She was wonderful! Her deep, throaty voice was an interesting counterpoint to her naivete.

The conducting of Valery Gergiev was elegant, and passionate, with a minimum of arm-waving. Yet he brought out all the beauty of Tchaikovsky's music.

I cannot wait for October 1, to see this again. And October 5. And maybe, October 12, or 19????

REVIEW by Yige Li

This was the first time I ever attended a final dress rehearsal, and I felt so lucky being able to see this before the season’s opening.

Production-wise, it’s a good one, though, MET’s previous production by Carsen suits my taste better. 

It’s kind of confusion that all the three scenes in act 1 are set at the same place. And in Act 1 Scene 3, instead of the usual entrance of Tatyana after the girl’s chorus passage, she sits in a chair with her back to the audience during the whole opening chorus’ singing. I’m not picky hoping a production would follow the libretto line by line. A Regietheater work could have some freedom, as far as the music and the spirit of the libretto are followed. But for a traditional tell-the-story-as-it-is production, it’s hard to understand why not setting the three scenes at the garden outside Larin’s house, Tatyana’s bedroom, another part of the garden, as the libretto suggests. And having Tatyana on stage from the beginning of Act 1 Scene 3 makes it impossible for her to rush onto the stage after the girls’ chorus, which, in my opinion is clearly written in the orchestra playing. Also, the stage lighting is bit “foggy”.

Compare to the videos shown on the MET website, what I saw from my seat in the most center side box on Grand Tier (the third floor, above the orchestra level and parterre level, under dress circle, balcony, and dress circle, for the reference of those who are not familiar with MET), the bright part is darker, and the dark part is brighter. However, this was, after all, a rehearsal that the orchestra members wore daily cloths rather than all black when in performances, plus having producing team in the center of orchestra level with screens and light on their scores. This should be less a problem in a real performance. Also, this made the screening before every scene not as clear as one would expected. I am not fond of this design, feeling like watching movies in a cinema without all the lights off. But, again, this could be better in a real performance. And in Act 3, the so many columns often block our beloved characters from audience.

Still the production has many great moments of blocking and acting. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1, during the dance of peasants, Tatyana was forced to the corner leaving space to the happy dancing people, while in Act 3 Scene 1, it was the similar situation for Onegin, which beautifully illustrates the image of two outsiders. The hand-shaking and hugging between Onegin and Lensky after the canon singing of tenor and baritone, before the duel in Act 3 Scene 2, makes the two characters appear more conscious than in usual productions, and lead the death of Lensky (and the lost of Onegin) more tragic.

And as it was mentioned by Mariusz in the MetTalk earlier on, in the last scene, when Onegin and Tatyana singing “happiness was within our touch, so close, so close, so close”, they were separated apart at the left and right side of the stage, which, together with the singing, gave a complex several-layer confliction between being close and distant.

There is also a very great acting parallel between Onegin rejecting Tatyana in the end of Act 1 and Tatyana rejecting Onegin in the end of Act 3 (the following words are in white, for those who could not see it either live or HD transmission, you can read them by selecting them by your mouse, and for those who will see it, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT read it, it will be much better that you learn it from stage), in which they both gave a kiss--but for Onegin in Act 1, it’s a kiss from an elder brother comforting the little girl, while for Tatyana in Act 3, it’s a farewell kiss for not only the man she loved and loves but also for her love, her dream, and her teen-age, which is definitely a heartbroken moment.

Singing-and-acting-wise, our three leads were great. Piotr Beczala was a romantic and hot-blood poet. His voice was bit more heroic (heavy?) than what I remembered from last time I heard him live. Whether it’s the growing of his voice, or it’s the approaching of the character in this production, or it’s the effect of Russian language, I’m not quite sure. Anyway, the result was great.

Mariusz Kwiecien was a handsome and cynical Onegin. Like Beczala, his voice has also become heavier than last time I heard him (in “L’Elisir d’Amore” last season in MET). Though it could very well be the difference between roles, I do think his voice is growing to heavier repertoires, considering he just made a successful role debut as Posa in ROH’s “Don Carlo” earlier this year.

And as for Anna Netrebko as Tatyana, it’s a perfect match. When having her role in Vienna this April, some reviewers commented it was a great success with the only question that why she didn't take this great role for her earlier. I disagree with that as I do think she take this role at a right time. True that her appearance is not as young and skinny as she was ten years earlier, but opera is firstly about singing--having a right voice is the essential requirement. And her heart is still young enough to play a teenager in love but also having the experience knowing how to play a married noble lady. She has a larger instrument than before as requested by the role, and a better lower register than before, which is important. There are some lines in Tatyana’s singing part going low, and one could not use chest voice to approach without thinking--after all, this is a pure soul not Lady Macbeth that one can make it however dark without being mistaken. And as always, her pianissimo moved me deeply. They’re not all about some beautiful notes, but emotion. These pianissimos had different colors: the waking of love in the Act 1 Scene 1 quartet; the hesitation in letter scene; the nervousness before Onegin’s entrance in Act 1 Scene 3; the emotional tiredness and conscious despair in the last act. And her acting is great but different as before. I have always loved her relaxing body on stage, but this time, it’s the nervous body that won my heart, which is just what the character needs. Her eyes are shiny as always but softer, deeper and more sensitive. I still could recognize the actress Anya I know, but this time, it’s a totally Tatyana-ized Anya.

This showed a very promising performance to look forward to, the only thing lacking is the white-hot energy--better to be saved in the real performance (Didn't we always hear stories about a disappointing performance after a way too great rehearsal? And personally, I did realize a performance lacking bit of energy after a great performance.). And I have already had tickets for several performances next month in the pocket.

P.S. A sentence after hearing the opening night from MET live stream: they did save energy for the real performance, and it was hot-white.

Curtain call. Photo: Yige Li
Standing ovation continuous and people from producing team asking them to have another bow. Photo: Yige Li
Anna at the stage door after the dress rehearsal. Photo: Yige Li

Excerpt from Tatiana's Letter Scene ("Puskai pogibnu ya") from Act I of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin." Anna Netrebko (Tatiana). Production: Deborah Warner. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Opening Production of the 2013--14 season.

Onegin's aria ("Kogda bi zhizn") from Act I of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin." Mariusz Kwiecien (Onegin). Production: Deborah Warner. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Opening Production of the 2013--14 season.

Excerpt from Lenski's aria ("Kuda, kuda") from Act II of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin." Piotr Beczala (Lenski). Production: Deborah Warner. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. Opening Production of the 2013--14 season.


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