Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is considered an opera in which very little happens and that is true if one limits his or her observation to actions. When it comes to feelings, the whole spectre of sentiments is generously poured on stage. It is a very emotional score – and conductor Andris Nelsons decided to spare nothing: the orchestra played with real passion, an extremely supple use of dynamics and tempi guaranteed that the last ounce of expression were extracted, sometimes to frantic effects. The word “blandness” would never occur to anyone in the theatre, but I wish that passion were achieved with a bit more polish for the musicians on stage. Although the orchestra achived a remarklable degree of intensity, that rarely tampered with precision. Unfortunately, the chorus did not often seem to follow the same beat from the orchesta and ensembles with soloists were poorly balanced. I have Jiri Belohlavek’s performance at the Metropolitan Opera House fresh in my ears and the Straussian grace with which the Czech conductor made his distinguished cast (Mattila, Semenchuk, Beczala and Hampson) blend their voices was truly admirable in comparison.
Olga Guryakova was an engaged and touching Tatjana – her basic tonal quality has the necessary young-sounding tonal sheen, but a sour edge to her tone spoils part of the fun, especially when she is hard pressed in more dramatic moments. As Olga, Ewa Wolak’s contralto seemed too dark in a cast where the contralto parts were taken by higher voices: the veteran Karan Armstrong (Larina)’s still bright-toned considering her age and easy on the passaggio and Lieane Keegan (Filipjevna). In any case, Wolak has an impressively deep low register. Andrej Dunaev’s tenor is pleasant all the way. His top notes lack a brighter edge and he sometimes disappeared in ensembles, but, with the help of the conductor’s attentive accompaniment, he gave a sensitive account of his big aria. At first, I found Boje Skovhus’s Onegin a bit hectoring and uncharming, but it soon became clear that this was a theatrical effect. Later in the Moscow act, his singing was exemplary in its clarity, beauty of tone and forcefulness. In comparison with the impressive cast offered by the Met this year, I would say I prefer his performance to Thomas Hampson’s, who was caught a bit short by the more dramatic passages. As for Paata Burchuladze’s Gremin, his voice is powerful as always, but I could never warm to his unclear diction and suspect sense of pitch.
Götz Friedrich’s production, which premièred the opera at the Deutsche Oper in 1996 has its moments of cold aestheticism in its light colours and geometrical cleanliness, but some moments are particular effective, such as the duel between Onegin and Lensky. What is beyond doubt is that the recreation of this production was extremely attentive to stage direction. All singers and choristers acted with conviction – Guryakova and Wolak were particularly believable. Skovhus tends to be overemphatic, but Onegin is everything but a spontaneous fellow anyway.