The Bolshoi Theatre hadn’t planned on repeating its production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, new in September, until next month, but space in the calendar materialised when Galina Vishnevskaya pulled out of a gala honouring her 80th birthday in protest over the Onegin production, which she denounced as the “desecration” of a “national treasure”. The views of its former diva having been duly noted, the Bolshoi proceeded to schedule two additional performances.
Perhaps one wouldn’t expect Vishnevskaya to like it, but nothing in Dmitry Chernyakov’s production proved to be worth such a tirade. The staging has visual monotony, since every scene is set indoors around a large dining table, although Chernyakov’s handsome designs do aptly distinguish between rural Russia and aristocratic St Petersburg. More seriously, his rethinking of the characters’ emotional make- up, while sometimes absorbing, often misfires and makes for puzzlement.
Chernyakov’s Tatyana is not simply a dreamy girl who impulsively writes a letter, but a creature of emotional extremes who walks around zombie-like at her own birthday party. In an apparent effort to rationalise Lensky’s call for a duel, Chernyakov has the party-goers mercilessly taunt him; but he should have retaliated against them, not Onegin. Yet I admired the way Chernyakov allows Onegin to emerge as a relatively sympathetic figure – Lensky is killed accidentally in a struggle over a shotgun that Lensky forces on him.
The Bolshoi’s increased clout allowed it to engage the hot Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin for the initial performances but Vladislav Sulimsky, a young singer from the Mariinsky Theatre, displayed a voice of gorgeous richness in the part last week. Tatyana Monogarova’s Tatyana has such vocal prowess and, at times, emotional fervour that I would be curious to hear it under other circumstances.
Chernyakov vitiates the impact of Lensky’s sublime first-act arioso by having his beloved Olga (the excellent Margarita Mamsirova) laugh at him, but Andrew Goodwin’s compact lyric tenor dealt nicely with the later aria. Alexander Naumenko sang reliably as Prince Gremin. Alexander Vedernikov, conducting, showed a fine appreciation of the musical depth of Tchaikovsky’s masterfully interrelated score.
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