Stoyanova, Maximova; Skovhus, Dunaev, M. Petrenko; Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Jansons. Production: Herheim. Opus Arte OA 1067 D (DVD) or OA BD7100 D (Blu-ray), 151 mins. (opera), 30 mins. (bonus), subtitled
Stefan Herheim is among the most imaginative and successful practitioners of current Regietheater, a genre not deserving the blanket condemnation some invoke without having seen much of it. With Mariss Jansons providing an excellent musical performance leading the luxurious-sounding Concertgebouw forces, this performance is consistently interesting and engaging, if not perhaps the ideal choice for a first-time Onegin viewer.
Onstage center is set designer Philipp Fürhofer's large glass cube, lit in blue. In and outside of it there seems to be an embassy party, with liveried staff and guests largely in modern attire. After a while, Onegin (Bo Skovhus) enters, checking his hair in an elevator mirror; the music begins, and it is the Act III polonaise (pre-recorded, it seems). Onegin seeks familiar faces and a drink but soon grows agitated. With the opera's delicate prelude, a flashback begins. The action becomes more recognizable: Onegin appears to be an unseen, regretful ghost — occasionally a prop — in his own past. The contemporarily dressed choristers from the opening reception join forces with others in stereotypical Russian garb and poses. Onegin and Tatiana — who also seems to be confused and having a flashback — end up dancing together.
Both major characters start in the "present" and then proceed to relive from their different points of view the events that divided them. Herheim uses the revolving set brilliantly; it permits the layering of action, meaning and time. Hence, the letter scene incorporates the "modern" Gremin of Tatiana's maturity as he reads in bed and the "old world" Filippyevna of her youth. Krassimira Stoyanova, a vocally outstanding Tatiana, sings the scene with great sensitivity and beauty of tone; the act of writing is shared with Onegin as part of his remembrance. (After all, he does steal the chief melody for his Act III arioso.) The Danish baritone and Bulgarian soprano both look mature for their characters — which actually plays into Herheim's concept.
At times, a young dancer "doubles" Stoyanova; Herheim handles this tricky device better than most. A dancing bear (Russia, one gathers) comforts Lenski in the Larins' ball-scene concertato; the scene ends with flames and Soviet soldiers invading the nineteenth-century world. The polonaise, when repeated, combines many eras and icons of Russian cultural history, including cosmonauts. It becomes rather a kitsch-fest.
Skovhus, still dashing, no longer commands a particularly fresh tone — it can turn grainy — but his singing remains musically attractive (despite some unidiomatic vowel sounds). Andrej Dunaev, as Lenski, gives a respectable though hardly epochal reading of his beautiful part. Dramatically, he seems a moony milksop; Elena Maximova's attractive Olga instantly prefers Onegin. Mikhail Petrenko's Gremin is here a moneyed, Putin-era thug who humiliates Onegin; his rich bass loses quality on top, and he is distinctly too young for the role. Guy de Mey remains a stylish tenor; his Triquet, an elderly fop, suffers a burning wig, a token of flames to come. This Onegin is a moving, important release.
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