Skeptical opera-goers got much more than they expected at Saturday afternoon's broadcast of "Eugene Onegin." Deborah Warner's new production, as well as the cast's investment in it, received lukewarm reviews after the opening night performance on September 23rd; by the HD broadcast, however, it was smooth sailing and any signs of the opening night kinks had been almost completely eradicated. The traditional sets shifted between rustic simplicity and refined elegance and Cloe Obolensky's clean-cut costumes befit the complex characters, while remaining true to the period and style.
The opera begins at the Larin's country residence, where a young, impetuous Tatiana falls in love with a shallow Onegin. The only persisting artifact from the disillusioning opening night performance was Anna Netrebko's bland portrayal of the shy Tatiana during the first half of Act I. Her interpretation of shyness and naivety was little more than a vacuous stare. Vocally, however, Netrebko sounded better than ever, in her native Russian. The language aided the resonance of her throaty voice significantly and seemed to allow her to command and shape phrases more confidently than in French or Italian. Her cold start aside, Netrebko found her groove in the feverish clamor of her "Letter" aria ("Puskai pogibnu ya"). Tatiana, though shy on the outside, smolders on the inside; Netrebko latched onto this low-lying fire and wielded it fiercely during Tatiana's encounters with Onegin.
Mariusz Kwiecien, in the title role, was a convincing Onegin all the way through his drastic metamorphosis from the idle, impatient aristocrat of Acts I and II to the heartbroken wretch of Act III. His changes were subtle and gradual. As early as Act II, before his duel with Lenski, we see his callousness falter, but not his pride. Kwiecien sang with wrenching passion, particularly in the final Act III duet, but flawless technique always supported his robust tone.
Piotr Beczala, in the role of the hotblooded poet, Lenksi, pushed his voice to much more daring heights of passion. Beczala's rendition of "Kuda, kuda vy udalilis"was the crowning moment of the afternoon. The suffocating darkness that shrouded the stage as Beczala poured forth unadulterated passion submerged the audience in the ponderous sadness of his fate. Like Netrebko, Beczala's voice found greater expressivity in the Russian text.
The relationships that developed between Lenski and Onegin and Onegin and Tatiana were complex and the bitter irony of their subsequent fates was strengthened by the nuanced expressions of this experienced cast.
Led by Valery Gergiev, the Met Opera Orchestra performed with their usual attentiveness to style. Gergiev drew an appropriately Russian sound from the orchestra that complimented the largely Slavic cast. Even those in minor roles brought exemplary lyricism and cohesion to Tchaikovsky's operatic masterpiece.