“Staging of Eugene Onegin Is Exceptional”

The Bolshoi’s dancers have departed, to be replaced by its opera company for just four performances. Yet there’s real quality if not quantity here — for Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging of Eugene Onegin is exceptional. It’s unquestionably the most compelling version of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece to be seen in these islands since Graham Vick’s unforgettable Glyndebourne production more than a decade and a half ago.

Tcherniakov has rethought the drama, creating a time-travelling naturalism that is profoundly subversive, with everything pushed to neurotic extremes. The entire opera is set indoors: in a reception room of the Larin’s house just before the revolution for the first two acts, and in Gremin’s gaudy St Petersburg equivalent in the 1960s for the last. Dinner parties dominate the first and third acts, while even in the second dancing is kept to a minimum, and the duel never happens; Lensky dies accidentally, during an argument with Onegin over a shotgun.

Unfolding with almost cinematic fluidity, it is all wonderfully crafted and achingly truthful, for Tcherniakov balances this most upsetting of operas on the sharpest of emotional knife edges. The three protagonists are all outsiders: Tatiana (sung by Tatiana Monogarova with mezzo-like richness on the first night, though the run is double cast) is even shyer, more introspective than usual, while Onegin (the understated Mariusz Kwiecien) is as out of place among the glitz of St Petersburg society in the third act as he had been in the rural world of the early scenes of the opera.

Alexey Dolgov’s fresh-toned Lensky is portrayed as a tragic fantasist, forever clutching his poems and more in love with the idea of Olga (Margarita Mamsirova) than with the cruel girl herself, and so desperate to attract her attention that he hijacks Triquet’s aria and sings it as the most embarrassing of party turns. Tellingly, it’s Tatiana who comforts him after his subsequent humiliation. Her final transformation from bookish country girl to society grand dame is beautifully managed, too, and it is her husband Gremin (Anatoli Kotscherga), a Soviet bigwig in this reworking, who rescues her from her final confrontation with Onegin after he tries to shoot himself — failing even in that.

Dmitri Jurowski’s conducting never quite finds an equivalent to such perceptive drama, and the orchestral playing is often coarse-grained, but the flair on stage means that scarcely matters. This is wonderfully fresh, imaginative music theatre, and Tcherniakov’s return next summer for Simon Boccanegra at ENO is an enthralling prospect.

Andrew Clements
The Guardian, 13.08.2010
5 ‘stars’ to the performance

“An Enthralling Performance”

An enthralling performance of Eugene Onegin launches the Bolshoi Opera on a new path through the 21st century.

Be warned. Aspects of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s vision of Eugene Onegin may get on your nerves: it is often mannered and hyperactive, and sometimes wrong-headed to the point of perversity.

Yet ultimately it doesn’t matter, because Tcherniakov’s overall engagement with Tchaikovsky’s romance is so sincerely thoughtful, theatrically imaginative and unfailingly alive. The production not only penetrates to the heart of the piece but also launches the Bolshoi Opera, long a haven for cardboard sets, vacuous tradition and ham acting, on a new path through the 21st century.

The first two acts run without an interval, and all its five scenes take place within Larina’s sparsely furnished drawing-room. Tcherniakov makes the milieu and mood Chekhovian: in the process he ignores several of the libretto’s stage directions and takes some quite drastic liberties, notably when he assigns Monsieur Triquet’s aria to a drunken Lensky and turns the duel with Onegin into a sort of dangerous game with a shotgun, played out in full view of the household.

But the setting, magically lit and darkened by Gleb Filshtinsky, is ravishingly beautiful. and Tatyana Monogarova’s portrayal of Tatyana as a sullen teenage outsider is both warmly sung and deeply touching. Even more remarkable is the way that the staging eliminates so much useless operatic convention ­ such as the division between soloists and chorus — creating instead an almost cinematic fluidity and realism.

The final two scenes transplant the splendour of St Petersburg to a panelled banqueting suite in the Mad Men era of the early 1960s. Tatyana has become a beehive-haired sophisticate married to the big businessman Gremin. Onegin is now the outsider ­ the incisive and sympathetic Mariusz Kwiecien wittily captures his awkwardness — and it is Gremin who firmly puts a stop to his dangerous final showdown with Tatyana.

Alexei Dolgov’s impassioned but bright-toned Lensky is a match for Monogarova and Kwiecien’s fine interpretations, and Margarita Mamsirova (Olga), Makvala Kasrashvili (Larina) and Anatoly Kotscherga (Gremin) etch their characters vividly. The chorus acts individually but sings together magnificently. The temperature was low only in the pit: Dmitri Jurowski’s conducting lacked refinement and sensitivity and sometimes the orchestra chugged along on auto-pilot.

But this was an enthralling performance, which left me feeling that I had experienced something rawly and emotionally truthful. I’m now impatient to see how Tcherniakov will treat Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at ENO next summer.

Rupert Christiansen
The Daily Telegraph, 12.08.2010
4 ‘stars’ to the performance