Lyric Scenes: Yevgeny Onegin at the Opera Krakowska

Tchaikovsky – Yevgeny Onegin (Евгений Онегин)

Tatyana – Ewa Biegas
Olga – Agnieszka Cząstka
Larina – Bożena Zawiślak-Dolny
Flippyevna – Olga Maroszek
Lensky – Andrzej Lampert
Yevgeny Onegin – Stanisław Kuflyuk
Triquet – Janusz Dębowski
Zaretski – Łukasz Jakubczak
Prince Gremin – Wołodymyr Pańkiw

Balet, Chór i Orkiestra Opera Krakowskiej / Evgeny Volynskiy.
Stage director – Michał Znaniecki

Opera Krakowska, Kraków, Poland.  Sunday, December 16th, 2018.

Yevgeny Onegin can so often feel like a piece that looks back to an idyllic past, before a mysterious stranger came along and disrupted it.  In this revival of Michał Znaniecki’s 2010 staging, there’s a sense of nostalgia, but also a sense that things were always doomed for Tatyana, Olga, Lensky and Onegin.  The set (Luigi Scoglio) is an imposing structure, dominated by three large circles at the back, left and right, through which the chorus watches and comments, while others make their entries through them.  This sense of looking through into another time and space, is one that I found most intriguing, particularly so given that the imposing, bare trees that dominated the set in the earlier scenes gave a sense of a time that was no longer the first flush of youth.

Interesting also, how Znaniecki brought out a dysfunction at the core of the Larin household with Mme Larina clearly fond of a drink or six, and also prone to quite severe mood swings (most convincingly acted by Bożena Zawiślak-Dolny).  No wonder then that, in a household such as this, Tatyana would find refuge in books.  There was also a simplicity to Znaniecki’s storytelling that I found quite persuasive.  Lensky sang his ‘kuda, kuda’ at the front of the stage, with snow projected onto a curtain behind that rose to show Onegin waiting for him for the duel.  The effect was moving, especially due to Andrzej Lampert’s beautifully-sung Lenksy.  At the same time, it also felt that Znaniecki kept us at a distance, with the letter scene sung to the front in a state of reverie, somewhat lacking in a sense of a Tatyana living her character through the moment.

Photo: © Archive of the Opera Krakowska

That said, Znaniecki did provide us with some memorable stage pictures, not least in an aquatic polonaise that opened up the St Petersburg scenes.  There must have been something in the water because the subsequent scene saw Ewa Biegas’ Tatyana embodying her character with even more freedom, throwing herself into Tatyana’s defiance and despair.  It was an interesting touch to have Tatyana clearly flirting with a group of gentlemen as the wheelchair-bound Gremin sang his aria.  Perhaps she was also destined to a dysfunctional future, just like her mother.

Musically, we got a respectable house repertoire performance.  Evgeny Volynskiy led an ideally-paced reading from the pit.  He started quite slowly, every phrase full of yearning.  As the evening developed, tempi picked up and flowed organically.  The evening flew by and it was very much due to the naturalness with which Volynskiy paced the work.  The dances were nicely fleet of foot and the band soared magnificently in the final scene.  String intonation, especially in the cellos, wasn’t always spot on and there were a few slips in the brass.  The winds, however, played well, finding a poetry in the writing that was most affecting.  The chorus was certainly enthusiastic, throwing themselves into everything asked of them – whether dancing, jumping around in the onstage pool, or singing with full-throated fervour.  Always with warm and rich tone.

Photo: © Archive of the Opera Krakowska

Stanisław Kuflyuk gave a very fine musical performance in the title role.  The voice is healthy, rounded and warm.  It’s a good size and carries well into the auditorium.  He’s the owner of a decent legato and clearly owns a well-schooled technique.  While impressive, his singing and acting felt somewhat generalized, lacking a sense of insight or truly living the role.  As a piece of singing, it was very good.  As a performance, I longed to be grabbed and made to feel.  His Tatyana, Biegas, sang with a big, vibrant soprano with a metallic edge.  The full and generous sound was undeniably exciting, even if occasionally, she sat on the underside of the note.  It’s a voice I’d like to hear as Tosca for instance, and she definitely rose to heights of passion in the final scene.

Photo: © Archive of the Opera Krakowska

Lampert’s Lensky was most impressive.  He truly lived the text, spitting out the words to Olga in the name day party, completely bringing out Lenksy’s sense of betrayal.  He dominated the stage with genuine star presence.  In his ‘kuda, kuda’, he brought out a devastating sense of pathos, yet found a reserve of passion there that was deeply moving.  Certainly a singer to watch.  His Olga was the lovely Agnieszka Cząstka, the owner of a sunny, full-bodied mezzo of youthful sheen, really ideal for this music.  In the remainder of the cast, Olga Maroszek gave us a wonderfully rich-voiced contralto as Flippyevna, the tone absolutely warm and healthy.  Wołodymyr Pańkiw’s Gremin was sung in a generous and full bass that descended to seemingly unlimited depths.  Łukasz Jakubczak made an impression as Zaretsky, suggesting in his handsome bass, that he could well become a notable Gremin in the future.

Photo: © Archive of the Opera Krakowska

In many respects, this Onegin had much to offer.  We had an insightful staging that did create some interesting stage pictures.  Musically, it was a respectable house repertoire performance and had several rewarding aspects.  Biegas’ Tatyana was honestly sung and Kuflyuk gave us a very good piece of singing in the title role.  It was outstandingly paced by Volynskiy.  In Lampert, however, we had something world class – a very fine Lensky who genuinely lived and breathed his role, taking us deep into the poet’s feelings.  A notable portrayal and talent indeed.

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