Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

New York City - The Metropolitan Opera's Onegin
Mariusz Kwiecien as Eugene Onegin and Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, Photo Ken Howard

The Metropolitan Opera Company opened its season with Deborah Warner's production of Tchaikovsky's magnum opus, Eugene Onegin based upon the novel by Pushkin . And - amidst some organized controversy, given Russian leader, Vladimir Putin's recent stance on the gay community. Demonstrators demanded the removal of the opera's Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko and conductor, Valery Gergiev because both support Putin's laws against gays, but Met GM Peter Gelb quickly indicated that his company is not political and that it recognizes both Tchaikovsky , a gay composer, and other gay performers on the Met stage.

Thanks to Cineplex Entertainment , I thoroughly enjoyed this initial opera and the talented leads, each exhibiting fine voice in the tragic story of unrequited love and missed opportunities. Jaded aristocrat, Onegin, played by Mariusz Kwiecien , an accomplished Polish baritone, haughtily spurns the immature, adolescent Tatiana, played by Anna Netrebko, and later, she spurns him in turn when married to a powerful aristocrat after Onegin agonizingly realizes her true beauty.

During the opera, there are spirited dances; one in particular - wherein male peasants throw a female dancer around like a rag doll, makes me wonder just what they ate for breakfast. There is a duel to the death with Kwiecien killing his ex-friend, Lenski, an aspiring poet played by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala amidst a bleak minimalist Russian setting.

Mariusz Kwiecien as Eugene Onegin and Anna Netrebko as Tatiana, Photo Ken Howard  Mariusz Kwiecien,  Anna Netrebko, photo by Ken Howard  Piotr Beczala as Lenski and Oksana Volkova as Olga, photo by Ken Howard

Tatiana and Onegin dominate the opera, and both shine. Kwiecien epitomizes patrician arrogance at the beginning, and his cold reserve in the final scene of Act 1 is a terrific contrast to the young and anxious Tatiana. In the deadly confrontation with Beczala, he ridicules his friend but nonetheless, at the end, has nobody to talk to in the party scene, ending up isolated and forlorn, reduced to the status of beggar on his knees, matching the frozen landscape. In fitting retribution, Netrebko gives him the same cold shoulder that he gave her in Act 1, her acting as superb as her singing, and the Russian is natural for Netrebko who delivers in persuasive style, ranging from precociousness to sensuality and sophistication. Beczala in turn is lively and precise, his acting as informed as that of Netrebko.

I marveled at conductor Valery Gergiev earlier in the year with his Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. His sensitive fingers are impossible not to watch as he magically conducts the orchestra with great verve and sensitivity to the stirring music. The opening Onegin motif repeats and grows stronger throughout the opera and remains with one for days.

The effective sets are courtesy of Tom Pye, and they mark a co-production with the English National Opera. The first two acts are set in bucolic country on the Larin estate. Act 3 is set in the capital, St. Petersburg, at a ball with tall columns metaphorically employed to demarcate strength and order yet permanent boundaries between Tatiana and Lenski. The attractive period costumes are designed by Chloe Obolensky.

Eugene Onegin runs through Dec. 12 at the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center; 212-362-6000,

R. Fleming & D. Hvorostovsky in rehearsal Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin: Letter Scene (Anna Netrebko)

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