TCHAIKOVSKY: Eugene Onegin (complete opera), Blu-ray (2014)

Cast: Elena Zaremba (Madame Larina)/Anna Netrebko (Tatiana)/ Oksana Volkova (Olga)/ Larissa Diadkova (Filippyevna)/ Mariusz Kwiecien (Eugene Onegin)/Piotr Beczala (Lenski)/ Alexei Tanovitski (Prince Gremin)/ 
Performers: Metropolitan Orch., Chorus & Ballet/ Valery Gergiev
Director: Fiona Shaw
Studio: DGG 073 5115 [Distr. by Universal]
Video: 16:9 1081p HD 
Audio: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French, Chinese, Spanish, Korean
No Region Code
Length: 164 minutes
Bonus: Interviews with host Deborah Voigt (11 minutes)
Rating: **** 

Considering how weak an opera Eugene Onegin actually is, it remains very popular, as is evidenced by the plethora of video recordings available. Actually, without the “letter writing” scene the opera would fade to black rather quickly, and it is surprising that the composer didn’t come up with a few more smash hits a la Puccini in Traviata. 

It’s also odd that the Met decided to release this performance as it already has another quite critically accepted video with Gergiev and Renee Fleming. But I guess the Gergiev/Netrebko pairing was too much to resist, especially as this one was seen via their “Metropolitan Opera HD Live” production which aired all over the world in various theaters. One can’t complain about that—this series is invaluable and brings opera to untold numbers of people who would not see many of these works otherwise.

This one is very good—I really have few things to complain about. Certainly one thing that I don’t mind is upping the time period from that of Pushkin to that of Tchaikovsky; it works very well, and the sets and scenery in this new production are exquisitely nuanced, yet rich and colorful without being over the top or gaudy. The focus does what focus should do in this opera—accentuate the emotional trappings of the characters and allow the music to penetrate the psychological aspects of the threadbare plot. Without the depth of character development, this opera fails, and fails quickly. Of course, much must be attributed to the singers themselves in their presentation. While I don’t think that the Onegin of Mariusz Kwiecien or the Lenski of Piotr Beczala, despite the better Slavic accents, match Dmitri Hvorostovsky or Ramon Vargas in the other Met offering (2007, Decca), and Netrebko herself isn’t as creamy-voiced as Renee Fleming, she is certainly a mature, solid artist these days with a full command of every part she undertakes, and Tatiana has to be one of her best—as we would hope.

Dramatically the opera works very well, the final scene as riveting as it can get. One thing that does bother me though, almost a curio in the midst of all this wonderfulness, is the “letter scene” itself; Netrebko can’t resist overacting, and whoever the idiot was that decided it would be lots of fun for Netrebko to spin in superfast circles, writhe on the floor back and forth and even up doing a 360 like Cleopatra being unraveled from her rug by Caesar—while writing the letter—needs to have their head examined. It looks silly, is silly, and simply can’t be done. Sorry for the fly in the ointment, but duty is duty. Nonetheless, very enjoyable—just close your eyes for a few seconds and enjoy Netrebko’s glorious rendition.

—Steven Ritter