The new production of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" performed at the Salzburg Festval turned out to be especially gentle, noble and exquisite.
In this production that was first performed July 29, there was love in the orchestra pit, complements of conductor Daniel Barenboim and members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Together, they produced close to three hours of passion, tenderness and yearning by combining tremulous strings, longing woodwinds, brazen brass and tempos that swung between breathlessly slow or tragically driven, reflecting the goings-on on stage.
Equally loving were the performances delivered by the principals. Great voices combined with wonderful acting to put as much life as possible into an opera that is slow on action and high on - love.
As often in the Romantic opera genre, "Onegin" is about boy meeting girl. But here, it is a case of love unrequited, at least initially.
The bookish Tatiana falls for the world-weary Onegin who spurns her, flirts with her sister then kills her lover in a duel and disappears - only to return six years later to see Tatiana rich, married and happy. He sees the light but too late for Tatiana who opts to stay with her husband the prince, leaving Onegin crumpled on stage and intoning, "Oh, my miserable fate!"
Tchaikovsy himself fell for his heroine, writing after creating her: "I loved Tatiana" - and Anna Samuil did the role proud.
The Russian soprano pulled out all the stops in Wednesday's performance. Her voice was broad, full-bodied and effortless and was matched by skillful acting that saw her transformed from dreamy countryside bookworm into big-city socialite in the space of three acts.
As Onegin, Peter Mattei was her match. His supple and velvet baritone was a treat, from start to finish, from jaded rake who rejects Tatiana to love-crazed suitor who in turn is rejected by her.
Also strong were Ekaterina Gubanova as Tatiana's kid sister, Olga; Joseph Kaiser as Lenski, her impetuous suitor; Feruccio Furlanetto as Gremin, Tatiana's husband; Emma Sarkissjan as the servant Filipyevna, and Renee Morloc as Larina, the girls' mother. Additionally the Vienna State Opera Choir was at its powerful and tight-knit best.
And while the most creative staging in the world would not be able to make this opera a work of action, director Andrea Breth deserves credit for going as far as possible.
Supported by the lighting mastery of Friedrich Rom, she made great use of the huge rotating and moving stage to present different tableaus at once, allowing the audience simultaneous glimpses of key pieces of the puzzle - Onegin taunting Lenski by flirting with Olga; Tatiana alone and desolate, and in the third piece of the trypdich, the boisterous party that serves as the backdrop for the drama.
No wonder love was not only in the air down in the pit and up on stage, It also suffused the audience, which expressed its emotions with thunderous applause.
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