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The Stanislavsky theatre, as it is popularly known, has a logo bearing the outline of a classical building with four columns. Most will see a nod to the dawn of western theatre but the design in fact alludes to the performance venue of Stanislavsky’s Bolshoi Theatre Opera Studio, a columned, former ballroom in the centuries-old house the great director occupied in Moscow.
Here in 1922 he staged the studio’s first opera, Eugene Onegin, and placed his famous method of naturalistic acting in the service of opera. Scenery consisted largely of the existing columns, said to have been covered with real bark for the duel scene. The production almost immediately went to a larger theatre and from 1926 was enshrined in the Stanislavsky theatre’s current home on Bolshaya Dmitrovka, where it stayed until 2001.
It now has a replacement. Alexander Titel’s striking production, with sets by David Borovsky and costumes by Olga Polikaropova, also has columns as the main decor, although they look a bit like elongated punching bags. A metallic bridge crossing the stage, from which Tatyana sings the letter scene, threatens to become tiresome and, fortunately, is given other functions, such as serving as a coat rack.
Stanislavsky was not a radical like his colleagues Nemirovich-Danchenko and Meyerhold. He wanted the focus to be on the actors. Rightly, Titel both respects his predecessor and strives for something new. Singers’ movements are sometimes stylised, sometimes naturalistic. But I found his Onegin over-produced and short on emotional power. Cynical touches didn’t help, such as having a clean-up crew brush Lensky’s body off stage during the famous polonaise (which followed the duel without an interval).
Natalia Petrozhitskaya’s pure-voiced Tatyana had some lovely pianissimo singing. Ilya Pavlov sang handsomely even if his Onegin sometimes lacked presence. Having Lensky sing his arioso blindfolded blunted its emotional impact but Alexey Dolgov phrased the aria stylishly, and Dmitry Ulyanov was a compelling Prince Gremin. The able conductor, Felix Korobov, observed some of Stanislavsky’s own cuts, omitting the lively peasant chorus in the first scene. It has been suggested that the Bolsheviks thought it demeaned the workers – but surely we’ve moved beyond that.
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