Monday night, Sept. 23, abundant low-back floor-length gowns, varicoloured tuxedos and bunches of beaded sequins forced one to search far and wide to find fleeting frumpiness at the Metropolitan Opera’s gala opening of its new season. Exiting the theatre took unusually long as everyone vigorously participated in the equivalent of rubbernecking for pedestrians, taking in an eyeful of their fellow audience members.
Yes, ticket-holders had packed the auditorium for the performance and in the intervals had queued-up in droves for champagne, as much to see Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” as to be seen in their glittering arrayment. Except for the curious gentleman bedecked in a San Diego Padres baseball jersey. He didn’t glitter so much as stand out as an outstanding exception to the rule of generalised stylishness (or earnest attempts thereat).
But we digress. We’re here to find out how the stellar performance went with a new production of a beloved work from the standard repertory.
Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień made his much-anticipated local debut as the title antihero. He cut a striking figure and acted convincingly, but his voice, though beautiful, lacked heft at key dramatic moments. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, also making her local debut, in the role of Tatiana, was in top form and spun rich lustrous lines even when singing quietly. She owned the stage and received as great an ovation as did Mariusz Kwiecień.
Polish lyric tenor Piotr Beczała sang from the heart with a heart-rending ping in the tragic role of Vladimir Lenski, who dies at his friend Onegin’s hand in a duel. Nowhere was this plangency more manifest than in his Act II aria, “Kudá, kudá,” with its ominous premonition. His justly deserved uproarious ovation rivalled in decibels those given the aforementioned singers.
As a bit of luxury casting, Russian mezzo-sopranos Elena Zaremba and Larissa Diadkova tellingly interpreted the roles of Madame Larina and Filippyevna, respectively, with that vocal voluptuousness that has come to be identified as a veritable Bolshoi Opera trademark.
Debuting British Set Designer Tom Pye’s handsome Act III designs caused spontaneous applause as the curtain rose, revealing 12 immense columns and a shiny marble parquet floor. Danish Choreographer Kim Brandstrup deftly guided the eight couples who performed the lively ballet sequences. Conductor Valery Gergiev kept things moving, though off to a slow start, only gaining momentum by Act II.
Never more than opening night can you tell opera newcomers from those who are truly serious about the art form. In the final measures of Prince Gremin’s Act III aria, Belarusian bass Alexei Tanovitski reached the depths in a phrase that was clearly unresolved musically. Cheers erupted in the brief pause before he concluded. Earlier, in the pause between Scenes 2 and 3 of Act I, numerous audience members bolted for the lobby areas for intermission refreshments, only to be sent back to their seats. The old guard politely put up with such blunders, so the festive occasion went largely unmarred.
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Newark Performing Arts column
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