Tchaikovsky – Yevgeny Onegin
Tatyana – Asmik Grigorian
Olga – Silvia Hauer
Larina – Romina Boscolo
Filippyevna – Anna Maria Dur
Lensky – Thomas Blondelle
Yevgeny Onegin – Christopher Bolduc
Captain – Christian Balzer
Triquet – Erik Biegel
Zaretski – Christian Balzer
Prince Gremin – Wolf Matthias Friedrich
Chor des Hessischen Staatstheaters Wiesbaden, Staatsorchester Wiesbaden / Daniela Musca.
Stage director – Vasily Barkhatov
Hessisches Staatstheater, Wiesbaden, Germany. Saturday, March 11th, 2017.
Tonight marked my first visit to the Wiesbaden Staatstheater. It’s an exquisite venue seating just over a thousand spectators. The lobby is also extremely beautiful. The theatre itself has a fantastically immediate acoustic. I chose to stay in nearby Frankfurt (around 45 minutes by train from Wiesbaden and the theatre is a short bus ride from the station) as the hotel prices are considerably cheaper than in Wiesbaden itself and more convenient for the Frankfurt Airport. That said, the same trains that service Wiesbaden also service the airport so staying in Wiesbaden is also a good option for international visitors. In common with many other German theatres, opera tickets are also valid as transit tickets and in this case, can be used on transit within the entire RMV region (which includes downtown Frankfurt) for up to 5 hours before curtain up. I only saw Wiesbaden by night and from the bus but it certainly looked like a very nice place, at least in the dark.
Tonight’s Onegin was the work of Vasily Barkhatov, a new name to me. Certainly on the evidence of tonight’s staging I would very much like to see more of his work. Apparently set in the early 1900s, a period of great social upheaval in Russia, this was manifested in the presence of the crowds who played a much larger role than usual. Indeed, I had much more of a sense of the social context in which the Larins lived in perhaps any other staging I have seen (although Warlikowski’s devastating Munich staging is hors concours in my experience). The crowd was very much a monolithic group – one that acted unanimously, yet at one point was also in opposition to each other. The Onegin/Lensky duel, rather than being a confrontation between the two men, became instead a confrontation between two groups – the idealistic poet (the revolutionary perhaps) and the more established figure. It definitely felt that revolution was in the air, with the mob forcing the two to fight and descended into a brawl. What it also succeeded in doing was making Onegin’s guilt for killing Lensky much more tangible than it often is.
It was also clear why Tatyana sought refuge in books, with an overbearing mother and a sister who gratuitously threw plates in order to draw attention to herself. Tatyana is also a victim of the crowds – she hides from them, not wanting to be included in their festivities, and in doing so becomes an object of mockery as they dance around her or taunt her in her name day celebrations with a cross-dressing Triquet (who sang his couplets in Russian). I found this to be a highly convincing reading of the text, especially so in the St Petersburg scenes as the roles are reversed – Tatyana socializing in a roped-off area while Onegin hangs around at the sides, unable to be part of the society in the same way that Tatyana previously was in the countryside.
What struck me above all is Barkhatov’s direction is how he created such rounded and believable characters from each and every one of his principals. Asmik Grigorian was a glorious Tatyana. Having had the pleasure of seeing her in Kosky’s Komische Oper production I was most eager to see her again in the role. She did not disappoint. Her letter scene was heartbreaking – she found the core of that music in a way that I have never heard it before. As she sang ‘who are you? My guardian angel or a tempter?’ she pulled the tone down to a thread yet always kept it perfectly tuned. As Gremina, she contrasted the bright youthful tone of Tatyana with a fuller, darker sound, while dramatically, she displayed a stronger more determined personality than as her younger self. The voice has a steely beauty combined with real cutting power and she soared magnificently in those closing pages. Grigorian is a major Tatyana who needs to be heard.
Christopher Bolduc was a handsome Onegin, who also mapped the journey from distant and uptight to passionate and desperate when he realized what he had lost. The voice had a youthful freshness, appropriately so given the work had been written for students, with a good line and he had clearly worked on the language. His was a brighter, narrower Onegin than we might be used to with the centre of gravity of the voice somewhat higher. As with Grigorian, he filled out the tone in the final scene, finding more amplitude. This was a very creditable assumption of a role I’d like to hear him sing again.
Thomas Blondelle was a passionate and extravert Lensky. His imprecations of ‘ya lyublyu tebya’ to Olga in Act 1 felt more desperate than seductive – though this was perhaps inevitable with the way that Olga was portrayed in this staging. He also filed the tone down nicely to a honeyed mezza voce in his ‘kuda, kuda?’ but, and I’ve felt this before with him, it felt at times that he was giving too much, forcing the tone with predictable effects on intonation. It’s an attractive instrument certainly and Blondelle is an accomplished actor.
In the remainder of the cast, Wolf Matthias Friendrich’s Gremin sang with two very distinct registers with a lower range of quite luxurious resonance. Silvia Hauer’s Olga was sung in a peachy contralto that has promise and Romina Boscolo’s Larina was deliciously chesty. Anna Maria Dur’s Filippyevna was a generous and warm vocal presence. The chorus had a few moments of uncertain ensemble towards the start – inevitable perhaps on a first night. They settled to sing with vibrant tone and filled the theatre with a blaze of sound. Daniela Musca’s conducting was nicely elastic, propelling the drama forward but also allowing the singers space to get through. Tempi felt right throughout, although the dances could have used a little more swing. She gained impressive depth of tone from the strings but their tuning was not suitable for those of a sensitive disposition. The solo oboe was quite distinctive (in a good way) and the brass were well behaved.
This was a very good house performance raised to another level by a splendid assumption of the central female role by a singer who really has so much to offer. It is most certainly worth seeing for Grigorian but also for a youthful cast and a staging that really does give a compelling and vivid reflection on what it means to not belong in the society in which one lives. This was an excellent piece of music theatre that was brought to life with unfailing commitment by the entire cast.