Day: February 13th, 2007

Eugene Onegin

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Music

Tonight, the final opera of our Met season series, and the production with which I was least familiar: Eugene Onegin. In fact, we exchanged what had been tickets to La Bohème from last November, drawn to this particular show by the female lead casting of beloved soprano Renée Fleming as Tatyana.


Until then, having never read Vladimir Nabokov’s celebrated four-volume English translation, I had only the most general plot outlines of the 1833 epic poem by Aleksandr Pushkin – whom many consider to be Russia’s greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. I’d never even seen the film adaptation starring Ralph Fiennes as Onegin and Liv Tyler as his girlish admirer (though it seems I’m not really missing out there.)

Surely Fleming’s star draw was also one of the reasons the Met selected the Saturday February 24 matinee of this production for its live high-definition broadcast in some 150 screening theaters from Los Angeles to London.

Eugene Onegin presents an overview of traditional early 19th century Russian society, which Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score adapts to the shifting scenes: from the countryside of rural gentry to the glittering ballrooms of St. Petersburg imperial aristocracy. Although Tchaikovsky’s most enduring and popular performance works are his ballets (Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake), Eugene Onegin is his best known operatic work and has secured a place in the standard repertory.

The sweeping dramatic arc of this opera — youthful longing, crushing rejection, deep regret — and Tchaikovsky’s swooning score seemed a natural match for the big screen. Less so Michael Levine’s exquisitely minimalist set. Barren, almost austere, floor and walls, swirling golden leaves, sparely but purposefully furnished period style rooms, wonderful, glowing lights… the overall effect was simply gorgeous when taken in from even our seats at the very rear of the opera house. I wondered, though, how the impact would translate to film and in close-up.

The performances, no doubt, would more than compensate for any production shortfall there. Ah, Renée!

Eugene Onegin Cast

Eugene Onegin Cast

The opera was sung in Russian (naturally) and I was very excited to have been able to pick out the phrase, “Ya lyublyu vas,” – “I love you” — from Lenski’s Act I aria. I’ll get back to my studies yet.

“Heaven grants us habit in place of happiness.”

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