Sunday, June 2, 2013

Eugene Onegin Revalation

Well, I told you guys I had Eugene Onegin playing in my head nonstop, no surprise at all that I make a post about it. This was the first Russian opera I ever saw, with French subtitles, so I had to have the libretto with me. I really liked the first version I had seen of it, with Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, that very famous production from the Met, 2008 I think. But yesterday, I had an absolute revelation in regards to this piece. I had always loved the music ever since the beginning, the Letter Aria and the ending duet being my absolute favorites. But as I listened to the broadcast of this season’s Royal Opera House’s production on BBC3 yesterday I was taken far away.
I think I ought to start out with the first thing I saw of this production, which was the rehearsal of one of the scenes in that wonderful program the ROH did of 10 hour straight of how life worked in the Opera House.

So we have the director, the fantastic Kasper Holten, one of my favorite baritones who plays Onegin, Simon Keenlyside and Krassimira Stoyanova the soprano who plays Tatyana. So in this video we have a rather warm welcome from the director who makes us feel at home right from the beginning. He introduces the cast and artistic team who will be working that day on the scene where Onegin goes to talk to Tatyana about her letter. (Btw check out the cute conductor!)
Something I really loved about this video is the different languages boiling all over, Kasper does warn us of that, but is just so interesting to see how they speak in English, German and quote in Russian and still work normally, real opera rehearsal atmosphere. It is so fantastic to be able to see the rehearsal and get all the explanations behind the gestures and musical choices, you can almost now see the story how THEY want to tell it through the staging and movements much more clearly in rehearsal and in performance time.

And not to forget this is a highly creative moment so they change some things and find out more about the characters as they rehearse and see what fits better with the production. For me it was such a breath of fresh air to have someone playing Onegin not as a snobbish man, especially in this scene, but as an insecure young man who doesn’t really know much about life and is really afraid. And that he REALLY doesn’t mean to hurt her, that for me is marvelous, even though it is all the same awful for Tatyana. Especially when Holten asks Simon to have a “I wish I had the courage to do this” kind of attitude, then you can see good shinning through the character and that he really means it when he says that he’s not good enough for her, it’s not just an excuse.
Kasper Holten and Simon Keenlyside in reheasal
Kasper Holten is such an attentive and creative director, I absolutely loved the way he works, he guides the singer through the scene underlining little details that in the big picture make such a big difference. He draws a fair image of what he wants for the character (so cool when he says “You go over here and you say ‘Fucking hell’”) but lets the singer paint that image and that I think is a kind of perfect collaboration between director and singer. Plus the discussion about the character of Onegin in that scene that we get to hear is so enlightening, that helps us see the essence of the character and to actually understand them a bit more. The way they discuss about the text and music, you can see the singer sees it in a way, the director another but they try together to bring something genuine to the table, that speaks to both. Plus Simon concluding that “He’s gay!” at the end is priceless!  

First video of the actual performance I saw was of course the ending and then the Letter Scene. But I’m going to talk about the 4 videos I liked the most in chronological order. So the opera begins, before the music starts you know that this is a different kind of production. The conductor comes in and after we are in darkness for about 30 seconds the lights start slowly coming on on stage.  Tatyana comes on stage, no music, just her holding a letter that she reads before throwing on the floor, this is the “old” Tatyana, as you see she’s wearing a rather royal looking dress, and that letter must have been Onegin’s letter to her. I image this is just after the last scene of the opera, their confrontation and her refusal of him, as she’s very distressed. Then she looks rather nostalgic and fetches a book inside which there’s a letter, most probably her letter to Onegin, when she opens the letter to reread it the overture starts.
What I love about this production is that every bit of orchestral music is interpreted in a way on stage to tell the story and show us a little bit more about the characters. Orchestral moments that are normally used for scene or costume changes become a big part of the story thanks to this new staging.  
Krassimira Stoyanova is absolutely fantastic, she hasn’t opened her mouth yet to sing but you can see that she’s a great artist. Reading through Tatyana’s letter she’s recoiling old feelings with that “I was so young and naïve” look. Her acting takes us through a journey, just her gestures and actions together with the music paint (to me at least) what’s going on in her head, after she’s done with the letter I feel like there’s a “what if” moment for her but in a more day dream kind of way. Onegin (Simon Keenlyside)appears and she’s once again alarmed, she closes the doors and so does he, they take their time to stare at each other, him defeated (but I can see one little ray of hope) and her changing from resolute to not so sure anymore. It’s really rather lovely in a weird way, she motions at his direction but then changes her heart as if thinking “No, I can’t do this!”. And then decides to show him how she saw it all happen.

And that’s the big catch of this production; this is not exactly how it happened, but how Tatyana remembers it and how she’s now telling it to him. Another great thing about this production is that there are actually two other actors who play Tatyana’s young self and Onegin’s young self, they are both dancers so Simon and Krassimira still sing all the parts but sometimes share their scenes with their doubles.
The big doors open to reveal now a hay field and young Tatyana reading and Olga, her sister in the swing. Young Tatyana (couldn’t find her name anywhere!) is a wonderful actress, from the very first scene she conveys most of Tatyana’s characteristics, a naïve, passionate, daydreamer who needs nothing more than a book to please herself. Her sister teases her taking away her book and as Tatyana runs in pursuit of her “old” Onegin and Tatyana watch them with a melancholic nostalgic gaze. We hear Tatyana and her sister sing as she and Onegin (he has a “ah, so this is how she sees it” look on his face) leave leaving young Tatyana to her books, the older Larina and Filipyena sing about their youth while Tatyana and Olga sing of spring. Now we have Krassimira as her younger self in the same dress as the dancer with her sister, she goes on and picks up a book to read, Larina takes it away but just as she leaves Tatyana recovers it.

We can hear the voice of the peasant leader in the distance and Tatyana seems to travel far away to the sound of his voice and the chorus’s.  The chorus appears and as they sing the lights dim on them, come right up on Tatyana who is sitting on a chair and there he is, just above the chorus, young Onegin who has just arrived. Right after we see young Tatyana who looks at him and all the pieces seem to fit for her AND THE VIDEO ENDS! This is true torture!
One day I will watch this whole production, but for now these videos are all I have.

Next up is one of my favorites, the letter scene, both Tatyanas on stage, they both are dressed  to be in the same time line, but Krassimira seems to narrate more while her younger self quite literally twists with all that is happening to her. Krassimira lays down pen and paper as she sings the very beginning of her aria and after Everywhere, everywhere I look, I see my fatal tempter! Wherever I look, I see him! (sorry I’m not writing in Russian because I simply can’t haha) her younger self rushes to the pen and paper and starts writing. Krassimira seems to analyze the letter as her younger self writes it and says it’s no good so her younger self throws it away. And it’s interesting how she makes it as if old Tatyana is not only telling the story but also reliving all those feelings.
Now the music written for this aria is so absolutely incredible, the way the theme is played out changing from instrument to instrument is absolutely hypnotizing to me. As the theme starts playing Tatyana starts writing again and older Tatyana takes off her letter, already written and as she sings actually reading it (as opposed to writing it, which is what she does in this aria). She looks at her younger self when she starts off with O yes, I swore to lock within my breast this avowal of a mad and ardent passion.. It is so interesting how she almost consoles her younger self, running her hand over her head in an almost motherly way while she sings “I would have found another, have proved a faithful wife and virtuous mother...

The music changes and so do the actions on stage, what is great about this production is that everything that happens on stage is so unusual but at the same time fits in perfectly with the story. As Tatyana professes her love to Onegin, young Onegin appears to young Tatyana and they exchange at first tender touches and it becomes increasingly more physical but still lovingly. As they continue to hold each other, we see the older Tatyana looking at them as she sings, and you can see that that image of them together is Tatyana’s ultimate day dream of them after he’s accepted her letter and love. When he leaves we are left with a still in dream zone young Tatyana and a sad looking older one and the theme is heard again. The synchronization of music and action in the production are so perfect, this is like the perfect production for me, everything is done just the way I like, shouldn’t change a thing.

The way one Tatyana hugs the other one as she sings those penetrating words of young and aching love is inspired. She decides to bare her soul in that letter, to actually almost give her soul to him in those words she writes. And the explosion, in the orchestra, in Krassimira’s voice and eyes as she repeats “I implore”, and the orchestra parts get so grand, just as grand as her feelings, she’s bursting with feeling, which is masterfully transmitted through the music. Now she knows that she can’t fight it, she has to tell him, and as she finishes with alas, the scorn I have deserved! we have one of the most heartfelt orgasmic orchestra explosions in history (in my opinion haha). Young Tatyana finishes the letter and they are both so overcome with their emotions, it’s too frightening to read it again and Krassimira takes the letter from her younger self’s hand as the aria ends.

Next up is right after Onegin has killed his best and only friend Lensky, he takes his friend’s pistol and almost shoots himself with it but decides otherwise. As he takes a little bottle of, what I imagine is vodka, and drinks it all up, just as he it gets to his mouth the waltz starts; this is another musical acting moment where it is so synchronized. Now this orchestral music is usually used for the setting of the ball, or something merely superficial, and what they’ve done here is absolutely amazing. We have about 8 good looking slim dancers passing by him and of course he soon forgets about his dead best friend who remains there down stage until the very end of the opera as a ghost of what he’s done I think.

And as the music progresses, he flirts with each dancer and they dance (meaning that they engage in some sort of relationship) and at first the girls are happy, then they start to run away from him, but then there’s always another. Some of them cling to Lensky’s dead body or lie beside him, he’s momentarily upset but then another one comes to distract him. As he gets hold of a rather flirtatious and playful one she immediately grows weak and falls, he’s shocked, but on comes another one who embraces him ever so lovingly. At first he doesn’t understand, but just as when he’s surrendering to her she also falls, crumbles into nothing. And then another one the same thing, and it’s so amazing how fantastically choreographed this was, it was choreographed on the music so it flows and tells a story of how everything he touched turned to dust.

The big theme comes back as all of the girls approach him and he decides to change strategy. To enjoy them as best while he can and then just dispose of them when they crumble, but some of them come back to fall to pieces right in front of him, reminding him ultimately of what he’s done to his best friend. The girls continue to flirt but he doesn’t want any of that anymore, he avoids them, they leave as the scene ends leaving behind a rather beaten up Onegin.
And the last scene I’m talking about is of course the last scene of the opera that had me pulling my hairs by the end (I’m serious). Both Tatyana and Onegin on stage, she’s just profaning how she felt when she saw him, I’m not sure if he can hear or not, he seems nervous, very much like young Tatyana when it was her heart on the line. They see each other, it’s explosive almost, as she rushes in his direction he gets down to his knees and starts kissing her hands most desperately. This is really getting me nervous, at points I’m like “Jesus, what’s going to happen?” even though I’ve seen this opera a million times and I know how it ends, it’s just more powerful than me!

I’m like how can she NOT forgive him after that his heartfelt “O spare me, have pity! I was so mistaken; I have been cruelly punished” . But how I adored the fact she takes out HIS letter to HER when he sees it he probably feels the exact same feeling she felt when he returned HER letter to HIM. Now it’s time for her to give him a piece of her mind on the matter, and it’s nice how he reacts quite ardently to her accusations, there’s a real exchange going on, not just a bunch of bitter words she throws his way. He finally gets to respond with words almost mirroring a young Tatyana in depth of feeling. Tatyana herself can’t really believe that he’s come around and starts weeping, he closes the distance between them telling her her tears are more precious to him than anything in the world.
Now, at this moment when I was listening to the broadcast I was like “Who the hell has the audacity of laughing at this moment” because I heard a giggle. Little did I know that it was actually young Tatyana coming on on stage with young Onegin as an image of could have been for them as Tatyana sings her heart aching “Ah! Happiness was within our reach, so close! So close!”. And this is truly a gift because she regards the happy couple with sadness and wish and Onegin regards them as something they could still become. As he takes her hand and joins her in singing that very same line he tries to show her they can still be together.
But Tatyana is an honorable lady, and since she’s married for her there is no way she and Onegin can be together, and so as she asks him to leave he pours out yet again the most heartfelt bucket of devoted words to her. This gets my blood running faster and faster, because we know they love each other, so for me it’s infuriating that they can’t be together. He grabs her from behind in an almost desperate move to change her heart and she confesses that she still loves him in music that is dignified for this moment (yet another explosion).

And after the explosion comes a calmer Onegin thinking that everything is settled now, but how could it be? Just as Tatyana is refusing to be with Onegin uttering “I shall always be true to him.” BAM her husband appears, I was very shocked at that, I got a little desperate you know, thinking “What is he doing here? He’s not supposed to be in this scene! Oh my God, what’s going to happen now?”. And to makes things worst his finding out everything is so depressing, the look of disappointment on his face is absolutely awful and makes me feel so bad for him! And as Onegin professes how she must be with him it gets even worst and Tatyana is in the worst position ever!

She fights firm to maintain her dignity even though she’s listening to the only words she longed to hear, I admire her immensely, I would have never had the strength to do what she does. He pleads and pleads and I’m turning into a puddle of nothing, almost shouting “Just give in, for Christ sakes!”. But we should never forget her husband is there, and now he’s distraught with what he has seen and heard. But Onegin is shouting he loves her, but she’s resolute about what she’s to do and sinks to her knees as she sings her last line “Farewell for ever!”. And this, I think, is the saddest moment in the entire opera; after her high note dies out she grabs a book and starts reading it and weeping. Oh my God that is so awful and depressing, as Onegin sings his last bit he sees that even though she’s there a breath away from him she can never be his, he’s lost his chance. THE END, nobody dies but everyone in the audience of depression.  
Throughout the whole process of watching all this and reading the libretto I feel like I understand a bit more this master piece that Tchaikovsky created.
Now this post I liked, I can go to bed with a clean conscience hahaha


  1. hihi, i was reading this with "pique dame" in my head for some reason and kept thinking why are all your descriptions NOTHING like my impression of music/flow/storyline... will have to re-read again now, but thanks so much for the nice detail scene-by-scene descriptions.. i tend to just listen on headset without paying attention to the storyline so these are great for post-follow-up :-).

    1. that comment of yours had me laughing out loud! :D Did u reread it now with the right opera in mind? Thanks for reading anyways hahaha :)