Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eugene Onegin: Praise Kasper Holten

Could it be that Kasper Holten [the author of arguably the best Ring production to date] is bringing a wind of change to the tired Royal Opera House that after so many tepid shows --Don Carlo, Carmen, Roméo et Juliette, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Tamerlano, La Traviata, and even Les Troyens... -- finally comes up with something more challenging, creative, smart and passionate?!
I most definitely hope so, and my hope was growing bigger after I read a few ultra-conservative media discussing what they recently saw in London [e.g. this].

Old remorseful Onegin standing next to a young desperate Lensky who will romantically die the next day

The recently premiered Kasper Holten production of Eugene Onegin, after its run at the ROH, will travel to Turin where it will be presented in May this year and then it will move to Australia.

I would have missed this amazing show --which was a major European operatic event of the first trimester in 2013-- if it was not broadcast to the selected cinemas across Europe. To be honest, the super-expensive seats for a rather unimpressive production of Ring des Nibelungen in London last fall significantly reduced my interest in live shows at the ROH. This Eugene Onegin had precisely the opposite effect on me  [eagerly waiting the list of the new ROH productions in 2013-2014].

So thanks to whoever decided the ROH would broadcast this show [last year's Tosca was truly dreadful].

The style of this new Onegin appears as an approximation of what Guy Cassiers does in his shows as it cleverly combines dance with opera to tell the same story in such a way that the dancers/actors act the storyline to which the singers are indirectly and directly involved. But it gets bigger!
Here Tatyana and Onegin (singers), throughout the entire first act, are both aged individuals who separately recollect memories of their common past; on the stage they watch them-young-selves in a very important episode of their lives that determined emotionally who Tatyana and Onegin are today. That basic idea gives the whole story a bittersweet taste of love & passion but also regrets and pain that no other directors managed to differentiate in their productions so far.

The idea would work well but it becomes genius when you realize a level of dexterity by which Kasper manages to combine dance, singing, acting without unnecessary overlaps or divergent threads in the storyline. Directed with a remarkable precision he magnificently emphasizes the  emotional content of the plot without straying away to the cheeseland; instead, he keeps it steadily passionate -- just like  Pushkin does. The way the actors/singers/dancers are guided is a superb example of the difference between the opera shows produced before and after cca 2005.   

This masterfully sculpted story is rich with scenic details of which I found particularly poignant the polonaise during which Simon Keenlyside (Onegin) was desperately trying to dance with 'fictitious' girls, but as soon as he would touch any one of them she would fall dead; he finally realizes that he's doomed to be unhappy and alone for the rest of his life. In such a state of mind, seducing Tatyana again would mean life to him, and he indeed spills all his despair out to her, begging her to love him again, but the whole episode eventually turns to be emotionally fatal for all three of them (including Gremin).

I also loved the book/poetry as a fil rouge in the show -- it is the same poetry [Lermontov?] that inflamed the soul of the young Tatyana when she fell madly in love with Onegin, and that same book appears in the end when her heart breaks again, now as a mature woman, when she annihilates the young Tatyana in her by refusing her heart speak for her brain ==> she rejects Onegin [the only thing that remains of the young Tatyana is that poetry book].

Tatyana rejects Onegin and comes to terms with her unreturned love -- in the process her young-self dies as well...

Singingwise, Krassimira Stoyanova obviously rocked (like she did in the Herheim production at DNO in Amsterdam) -- that woman is a living miracle. Everyone else was truly fantastic too: Pavol Breslik (impeccable, just like Andrey Dunaev!) & Simon Keenlyside (never better!) -- excelled again like they did recently in Munich, Elena Maximova nailed it like in Amsterdam, and the always wonderful Peter Rose confirmed his greatness as Gremin. A nice touch of surprise was a very solid conducting by Robin Ticciati (although no one can beat Vasily Petrenko in this opera).

This terrific show is to me the first great ROH production since Tristan und Isolde (directed by Christof Loy). Now, besides the monumental production by Dima Tcherniakov, the formidable shows directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski, Stefan Herheim, Andrea Breth, we are now blessed to have this gem by Kasper Holten. Eugene Onegin lives!

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky enough to see Kasper Holten's production on BBC TV - it was absolutely marvellous.

    And I can't wait for the DVD to come out (I hope).

    Opera novice, Paris