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Robert Carsen’s intimate, starkly stylised vision of Eugene Onegin has been a glorious anachronism at the Met ever since 1997. Expressive details have changed over the seasons. Still, Michael Levine’s minimalist décors – predicated on empty space, fallen leaves and strategically placed chairs – have retained their desolate impact, reinforced by poetic images of light and shade projected by Jean Kalman.
This revival turned out to be high on star power, not so high on ensemble values. Valery Gergiev inflicted his jittery will on Tchaikovsky’s passions, turbulence dominating sentiment. Officially listed as principal guest conductor, although he leads only one opera a year, the Russian super maestro whipped up considerable excitement. His tempos tended to be erratic, however, and his attention to singers’ needs sporadic.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky looked handsome and dapper in the title role, the anachronism of his silver locks notwithstanding. He remained a bit casual in demeanour, whether conveying pomposity, rage or remorse. But he sang with breathless suavity, rolling amplitude and, yes, beguiling sensitivity. It will be difficult to forget the way he phrased the quiet ascending cadence of his aria. In interviews, the baritone has indicated his intention to give up Onegin because he finds the challenge “boring”. If true, our loss.
Ever poised and pretty, Renée Fleming soared through Tatiana’s lyrical indulgences exquisitely, summoned ample power for the outbursts of desperation and ended the evening in sad, serene triumph. Ramón Vargas sang Lensky with such sweet fervour that one almost forgave his avoidance of pianissimo tones. Elena Zaremba sounded harsh as Olga and Sergei Aleksashkin reduced the noble rhetoric of Gremin to a rough and tough vocalise. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt imbued the little serenade of old Triquet with bel-canto delicacy despite the snail’s pace imposed by Gergiev and the young-fop characterisation imposed by Carsen. Major performances in minor roles came from Larisa Shevchenko, former Maryinsky diva, as Tatiana’s nurse, and Richard Bernstein, Met Figaro par excellence, as Lensky’s second.
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