Saturday, September 18, 2010

Onegin in Paris: Incredible Mr.Petrenko!

Eugene Onegin, Opéra Bastille, September 17 2010

Vasily Petrenko ..... Conductor
Willy Decker ..... Stage director

Nadine Denize ..... Larina
Olga Guryakova ..... Tatyana
Alisa Kolosova ..... Olga
Nona Javakhidze ..... Filippyevna
Ludovic Tézier ..... Eugene Onegin
Joseph Kaiser ..... Lensky
Gleb Nikolsky ..... Prince Gremin 

Jean-Paul Fouchécourt ..... Triquet
Ugo Rabec ..... Zaretsky

Paris Opera Orchestra and Chorus

And so I got myself a new fave: Vasily Petrenko!

Vasily Petrenko

The way he's set the tempi for this Onegin made me listen to and perceive this opera in a whole  different way; he made me doubt about its cheesiness, and made me discover hidden gems of this score. It must have been hard on singers to get into such an unorthodoxly structured tempi, but the result is refreshing and inspiring. For that I'm very grateful to all the musicians performing last night for making the evening so enjoyable.

Last time I've been so struck by a conductor after an opera was in Brussels, after listening to Paul Daniel making a miracle out of Verdi's MacbethPetrenko is a new gem to follow: he's only 34, and after this Onegin last night I was not surprised to learn that his talent was carved under the supervision of all time greats such as Maris Jansons, Yuri Temirkanov, or Esa-Pekka Salonen.

There was no a minute of routine conducting, that we usually get from Gergiev and other 'stars', who never have enough time to practice but show up on the day of the performance to beat the measure and go.
I could only imagine what the result would have been had Vasily had even more time to practice with the Paris Opera orchestra. Innovative approach to the score requires a bold attitude of the youngster, and a passion to perform was more than perceptible -- the guy is freaking great! Way to go Vas!

As for the staging, this is yet another  Willy Decker's production which I found a bit disappointing. I am trying to differentiate the reasons for scenic letdown last night, and I guess it is a combination of the following three: (i) the production is 15 years old and while it might have been innovative and great in 1995, it looks pretty tired today; (ii) Willy Decker did not come to supervise the revival of his show and the lack of drama on the stage could be due to his assistant's inability to match his/her mentor's skills; (iii) after all, it may be that I simply don't like Willy Decker's shows and that his Death in Venice in Barcelona was a singularity in his opera producing career.

The sets were the same throughout the show, the only difference before and after the intermission was the color of the walls: in Act-1 they were ochre (yellowish/brownish), and in Act-2 they turned white/gray. On the first sets there was a couch and 2 chairs [towards the end there was an extra table with chairs], while on the second set there was a bunch of chairs scattered across the stage [in addition to a luster descending from above the scene when you were supposed to imagine being in a ballroom]. Here is how the sets look after the second act:

Willy Decker's theatrical language looks very much like the early works by Christof Loy. It's supposed to be minimalist and the whole chemistry is expected to happen among characters - actors. The problem is that Decker immerse his drama in a scenery that contrast the theater and kills the intimacy, the romantic side of the work. Since the acting direction is much less efficient than in the orks by Christof Loy, the show after only 30 minutes turns into an aseptic love story. 

This feeling [of aseptic love story] is exacerbated by the (lack of) acting skills of Ludovic Tézier. Everything is so distant, so neutral, so... He did sing brilliantly as ever, the Paris Opera decided to single his name out and promote him to the star of this production (see the first pic above!), and so he did rake a loads of bravos from the crowd at the end of the show, but I thought there was too much surgical, and so little emotional in his acting and singing. Olga Guryakova was much stronger performer -- Tatyana fits her like a glove right now. Joseph Kaiser was a very good Lensky too.
So, it is all well sung and each one of them performed his/her aria with brio [including Olga by Alisa Kolosova, and Triquet by Jean-Paul Fauchécourt], but the chemistry among them was missing. The only who truly humanized the frigid theater on the stage was Gleb Nikolsky.

Tézier, Guryakova and Kaiser

To put it into perspective, this production is much-much better than the Carsen's show we saw at the Met a couple of years ago, but it is also nowhere close to Dmitri Tcherniakov's Onegin, staged at Bolshoi, and then showed in Paris, Milan, London, and last month in Madrid [it is also available on DVD].

Rabec, Fouchécourt, Javakhidze, Kolosova, Tézier, Guryakova, Kaiser, Nikolsky, Denize, Cochois

Listening to this Onegin is a treat and I would like to recommend you to check out the France Musique radio on October 2 at 19:00 (cet) when they will radio broadcast one of the performances from Opéra Bastille [c.f. this link].

This photo is by Ch.Leiber: see the sets presented in Act 1


  1. The Petrenkos - apparantly a good name at the moment for opera - there is Kirill of course and then Michail (singer) and now this guy ... wonder if there are more of them ;).
    Paul Daniel of course should be more famous!!

  2. We saw this production last night, and I agree with your review. The conducting was incredible - the music gained a new sense of power and joy - and, as you say, Petrenko's passion throughout the whole three hours was palpable.
    We too were disappointed in Tézier. He is of course a big favourite at Bastille, and we have liked him in other things, but his Onegin was wooden and bland - there was no sense of him as a charming, passionate bounder!

  3. Kirill and Vasily are extraordinarily talented. I read about Vasily but never listen to his musics. This Onegin was definitely big! It is totally surprising to see a new approach from a conductor visiting Opéra Bastille. This kind of innovative approach to the score is expected from the conductor coming with HIS orchestra. As for Kirill, he will be conducting the super-production of Tristan in Lyon next year. We'll be there! ;)

    I agree that Tézier is always great when singing at Bastille, but this Onegin is not at the level of what he usually delivers in Paris. It happens... no biggy :) Cheers

  4. Looks like the other one (Kirill) is going to be in Munich.

  5. That's very good news! Thanks :)

  6. And will perform 40 evenings per season (?)- that may be expensive for you :).