Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin [Peter Mattei … Anna Samuil … Daniel Barenboim] (DVD)

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Eugene Onegin – Lyric scenes in three acts to a libretto by the composer and Konstantin Stepanovich Shilovsky after Pushkin’s verse novel [Sung in Russian]

Eugene Onegin – Peter Mattei
Tatyana – Anna Samuil
Olga – Ekaterina Gubanova
Madame Larina – Renée Morloc
Filipyevna – Emma Sarkissián
Peasant singer – Thomas Köber
Lensky – Joseph Kaiser
Monsieur Triquet – Ryland Davies
A Captain – Sergej Kownir
Zaretsky – Georg Nigl
Guillot – Michel Ogier
Prince Gremin – Ferruccio Furlanetto

Vienna State Opera Chorus

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Daniel Barenboim

Andrea Breth – Staging director
Martin Zehetgruber – Set designs
Silke Willrett & Marc Weeger – Costumes
Friedrich Rom – Lighting
Brian Large – Video director

Recorded at the Salzburg Festival – July & August 2007 in Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, Austria

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: February 2009
CD No: DG 073 4434 (2 DVDs)
Duration: 2 hours 37 minutes



Mounted at the Salzburg Festival in 2007 and conducted by Daniel Barenboim, this is a curious affair. Although “Eugene Onegin” has been subjected to updating in previous productions, this one sets the opera in the Russia of the late-1970s/early-1980s, with all that entails. Although the singing and acting of some of the principals makes for occasionally compelling viewing the overall impression is that the opera had been stripped of some of its elemental charm and much of what is seen militates against the romanticism of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score.

The opera starts with Tatyana and Olga in a cornfield, singing and reading as one expects, but the revolving stage soon carries them out of view and we see Madame Larina and Filipyevna in drab modern clothes in a grey character-less atrium, the mistress shaving the heads of a line of workers (prisoners?) and the nurse hardly the gentle old lady of Pushkin’s devising but tired and decrepit. When Onegin and Lensky arrive, the former is very much the utterly self-absorbed and smug young man, and one rather feels for Madame Larina and her daughters being confronted by such a creep. That said, Tatyana is evidently taken by Onegin’s dubious charms, and it is hard to feel much sympathy for her given his reptilian behaviour. This puts the other two lovers, Olga and Lensky, into stronger and more dramatic focus.

The big set-pieces such as the country- and St Petersburg-balls show some deft if rather too-active handling of the chorus, but there’s little attempt to match Tchaikovsky’s best operatic dance-music to meaningful action. Indeed, the antics of the some of the drunken guests become tiresome rather rapidly.

In the title role, Peter Mattei has one of the most beautiful lyric-baritone voices around but also real stage presence – even when having to present such an unsympathetic view of the part. He carries the final scenes with real conviction. He is well partnered by the rather big-voiced Tatyana of Anna Samuil. Her voice and persona are vibrant, although at times her technique does not always seem absolutely secure and pitch is not always bang-on – particularly in her birthday ball-scene. In a more traditional production she might manage to make the ‘Letter Scene’ a bit more interesting – the use of a typewriter does not square with the abandoned love-struck frenzy with which her idealistic thoughts are transcribed to paper. The end of this scene, with the Nurse easing herself into the grave that has just been dug is no help either!

Joseph Kaiser is a superb Lensky. He catches all the poet’s impetuosity and hot-headed nature, and also his tenderness; he already bears the scars of previous scrapes. His lyrical and mellifluous voice falls pleasantly on the ear and he makes as much of his contribution to the finale of the first scene of the second act as his famous aria in the following one. Ekaterina Gubanova’s Olga is fine as is Renée Morloc’s Madame Larina. Ryland Davies makes much of his moment as Triquet and Ferruccio Furlanetto is, as one would expect, a fine and warm-voiced Prince Gremin.

All the principals are very detailed in their acting and, unusually for films of operas, the close-up viewing doe not suggest that everything is overplayed: the stage- and film- director have done a superb job.

With the Vienna Philharmonic on fine form and Barenboim relishing the score and emphasising its darker colours and sonorities, there is much to enjoy from an orchestral perspective, too. Mellow low strings and piquant woodwinds are certainly part of the palette, but with the production lacking ardour, a vital dimension is missing.

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