Simplicity, Snow & What Could Have Been

Tchaikovsky – Yevgeny Onegin

Tatyana – Dinara Alieva
Olga – Nadia Krasteva
Larina – Zoryana Kushpler
Filippyevna – Aura Twarowska
Lensky – Rolando Villazón
Yevgeny Onegin – Mariusz Kwiecień
Captain – Mihail Dogotari
Triquet – Norbert Ernst
Zaretski – Mihail Dogotari
Prince Gremin – Ain Anger

Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Patrick Lange
Stage Director – Falk Richter

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna. Friday, March 7th, 2014

This was a bit of a mixed bag performance. There was so much that was wonderful but also a fair bit that frustrated. Yet by the end it moved me perhaps more than any other Onegin I’ve seen and this is the fifth I have seen in the last 2 years.

I’ll start with the frustrations. The playing of the Staatsoper orchestra was, quite frankly, unacceptable. There were missed cues, such as when the trumpets enter at the end of the letter scene, string intonation was often raw and there were a lot of fluffed horn notes. Given that this is Vienna, the waltz was incredibly heavy on its feet and one point it threatened to come to a halt. Given the profile of the house this is not the kind of playing that one would expect. That said, there were times when the richness of the Viennese strings came to the fore with some beautiful portamenti. Patrick Lange conducted a reading that was nicely swift and paced very well. I imagine that he did not have much time with the band and so it could well be that with more rehearsal the playing would have been less accident-prone.

I really liked the simplicity of Falk Richter’s modern-dress staging. The constant presence of snow and ice on the stage compared nicely with the warmth of the personalities within. It was a place where most of the characters wore black and Tatyana seemed to want to confirm to their world and by falling in love with Onegin that was her way of joining the multitude of couples standing at the back of the stage. The progression from yearning farm girl to urban princess was beautifully done. There was a simplicity with minimal sets yet ravishing stage pictures that put the singers and their portrayals of their characters’ emotions first and the result, with this cast of outstanding singer-actors, was incredibly moving. Paradoxically given the undoubtedly limited rehearsal time, this felt like a real ensemble performance with characters who really related to each other.

Rolando Villazón has come a long way since his vocal crisis. It would be wrong to say that the voice is what it used to be. It was tight and constricted especially at the top and it just did not respond in the way that he clearly would have liked it to. Yet, he has obviously worked very hard on the style and language and he was an endearing Lensky. His ‘kuda, kuda’ was beautifully phrased and sung with exquisite breath control and legato. There was so much to admire in his reading that one forgave the technical shortcomings.

Dinara Alieva is new to me and she was a beautiful Tatyana. It’s incredible the difference it makes to hear a Tatyana who can actually sing in tune and instead of the saggy intonation offered by the two Tatyanas I heard more recently, here we had a secure and incredibly moving reading. The voice is a medium-sized lyric soprano and I imagine Tatyana is about the heaviest role that she would take on. The sound has a touch of metal with a tight vibrato. The range of colours is perhaps limited but she is a fine Tatyana indeed.

I enjoy Mariusz Kwiecień’s Onegin as much as I love his Posa and he did not disappoint tonight. He sounded like he had not quite recovered from the indisposition that struck him during his last few Don Giovannis in London and taking on a big role such as Onegin only a few days after finishing that particular run is quite punishing scheduling. The voice did however open up nicely later on. I write so much about his glorious bronze tone, his effortless breath control and generous legato that I fear it might become clichéd. Yet those qualities that mean I’d travel a long way to hear him were there. His Onegin tonight was urbane and sexy and it was perfectly understandable why Tatyana would fall for him. By the end, he and Alieva moved me more in that final scene than it has ever moved me before.

Nadia Krasteva was a deliciously fruity Olga but the Larina and Filippyevna were quite hooty. Ain Anger’s Gremin started off a little tremulously but settled down nicely to offer some theatre-filling low notes. Impressive. The chorus had a good night – warm tone with good blend and their ensemble put their orchestral colleagues to shame.

There were times tonight where the routine that can affect performances at the Wiener Staatsoper threatened to set in yet by the end it was one of the finest Onegins I’ve seen thanks to some glorious individual performances. It was well worth the journey.

Mariusz Kwiecień & Dinara Alieva © Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

Mariusz Kwiecień & Dinara Alieva © Wiener Staatsoper / Michael Poehn

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