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TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin

spacer Opolais, Belkina; Korchak, Ruciński, Groissböck; Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Wellber. Production: Treliński. Kultur/C Major/Unitel BD4813 (Blu-ray), D4813 (DVD), 150 mins., subtitled


If you like your Oneginsdeeply chilled, here's one served glacé. Mariusz Treliński's staging takes its cues from Pushkin rather than Tchaikovsky — it's strong on ironic detachment and self-conscious artifice, with style trumping emotional substance. If you picture Gremin's ball unfolding at a tackily trendy SSR nightclub, with a cigarette-wielding Tatiana voguing mannequin-like in a frumpy fuchsia frock — if that catches your fancy, well, by all means give Treliński's show a shot.

If, on the other hand, you'd prefer a little human warmth, the throb of a beating heart — as Tchaikovsky himself quite certainly did — I'd steer clear of this Onegin. First staged at Warsaw's Teatr Wielki in 2002, it was brought to Valencia nine years later with an international cast, and the final ovations here attest to its rousing success. Were it billed as something other than Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, in fact, even I might find cause for applause in Treliński's stagecraft.But as a realization of the composer's delicately wrought "lyric scenes,"this is as nasty a piece of Regie revisionism as I've ever encountered — and I don't forget Warlikowski and his dancing cowboys, much less the brilliant, trenchant Tcherniakov and his sacrilegious nose-thumbing at hallowed Bolshoi tradition. 

Treliński's concept is embodied by a tall and stout, bald and bushy-browed old man dressed in foppish white, who roams the stage and an adjacent passerelle to visions of his errant youth. It's Onegin, of course — or "O***," as the cast list has him — and it's no surprise that Treliński allots much of his meager dosage of feeling to a character of his own invention. Walking stick in hand — a Cupid's arrow or a lighting switch, as occasion demands — O*** moves in and out of the action, his memories stirred, it seems, by a fallen apple. For the letter scene, he helpfully supplies a sheet of paper (but no pen), which Tatiana apostrophizes with erotic contortions reminiscent of Salome with Jochanaan's head. At her birthday party, now masked as a wolf, he blindfolds her for a spin round the dance floor — and then repeats the gesture with Lenski. Monsieur Triquet is a pink-wigged dandy with balletic backup for his couplets: a winged ballerina is floated aloft on wires while three shirtless male fairies pose mincingly. With the elaborately costumed and masked guests dancing under five chandeliers, there's none of Tchaikovsky's intended contrast between Larina's humble country "ball" and the grand real thing at Gremin's in Petersburg an act later. But then, there's almost no nod made to real people leading real lives. 

Treliński's Onegin (the younger, singing one) is a preening, leering, black-clad silent-film dastard from whom any sensible country girl would flee at first sight. That he's quite well sung by Polish baritone Artur Ruciński matters less than the comparably good singing of Kristine Opolais: strikingly beautiful, she's too sophisticated a presence in Act I but at least is allowed a few moments of honest emotion. Even more of them are granted Dmitry Korchak, as Lenski; he sounds slightly nasal and thin at the start, but by the time he launches the Act II ensemble, and then in "Kuda, kuda," he's merited his curtain-call status as audience favorite. Lena Belkina is a lively but vocally unremarkable Olga, Margarita Nekrasova a sturdy but strangely over-made-up Filippyevna. Günther Groissböck's Gremin is handsomely, if un-Slavically, sung. The young Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber leads a fine orchestral performance (noticeably overprominent in the sound mix) from his talented young Valencians.  Ears only, there's little wrong with this Onegin; it's with eyes wide open that trouble brews. spacer


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