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Second leg in the Pushkin-Tchaikovsky trilogy staged by Peter Stein and conducted by Kirill Petrenko, this Onegin looks every bit as traditional as last year’s Mazeppa. It shares the same flashes of dramatic insight – Onegin’s cool smugness as he turns down Tatiana has never seemed so irritatingly self-absorbed, so oblivious to the hurt he’s causing – but too much of the production takes the story at face value. We expect rather more from Stein than blissfully happy peasants and a vacuously serene Madame Larina.
Long waits between set changes reinforce this dated feel. For right or wrong, this is as alien to us today as Stein’s undemonstrative technique. And half of Ferdinand Wögerbauer’s varied sets are of dubious aesthetic value: too much wood panelling from a DIY store and postwar housing project windows in Tatiana’s bedroom that jar with the period setting.
Wojtek Drabowicz is a callous, handsome Onegin but, like so many others, he struggles with the role’s awkward tessitura. Olga Mykytenko’s Tatiana is devastatingly effective in the letter scene, with heavenly covered top notes, though she strays too often from true pitch elsewhere. Marcius Brenciu (Lensky) pulls off the most difficult part – sweetly nuanced singing – and then veers radically off key when he goes for volume. Michail Schelomianski is a sumptuous Gremin and the chorus is on rousing form.
Stein’s name got the cycle the limelight but the value added is so far weighted in favour of Petrenko’s masterful conducting. There were accidents in the orchestra, but the score emerges as from a spring clean, rich in inner detail with tonal warmth in the lower strings, an inspired reading applying chamber music parameters with taste and discretion.
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