Cher Public

Les feuilles mortes

Lyric Opera of Chicago concluded its 2016-17 season (at least the opera part of it) with a spellbinding and wonderfully sung production of Tchaikovsky’s familiar Eugene Onegin

Using the much travelled and much discussed minimalist Robert Carsen production (you know, the one with all the leaves and all the chairs that began at the Met), revival director Paula Suozzi has brought much life and lots of new touches to the proceedings. The sets and costumes of designer Michael Levine looked fresh and spiffed-up, and nothing about this revival seemed tired or worn.

Debuting conductor Alejo Perez led an exciting reading of Tchaikovsky’s lushly romantic score, with faster than usual tempi but a great sense of texture and detail. In Tatiana’s famous Letter Scene, Perez led the shimmering strings in a glorious depiction of the agitation of her emotions as she prepares to write that fateful letter. It was a properly emotional reading of a highly emotional opera, and the result was both moving and affecting.

Soprano Ana Maria Martinez, always a powerful and moving singing actress, delivered a lovely and poignant Tatiana. Still, I had the feeling that the role was not a great vocal fit for her—the voice was always fine, but didn’t seem to really bloom until the final act, when Tatiana has gained in maturity and wisdom.

But her acting was spot on—I shall not soon forget her coltish leaping about the stage in the Letter Scene, tossing leaves into the air in an expression of pure joy at Tatiana’s first taste of romantic love. When she reappeared in the final act as the wife of Prince Gremin, her surprise and longing at seeing Onegin again were palpable. And the emotional agony in the final scene, where she rejects Onegin and decides to stay with her husband and honor her marriage vows was wrenching.

Tenor Charles Castronovo was a sensitive and vulnerable Lensky, singing throughout with honeyed tone and plaintive passion. His aria that precedes the duel scene, “Kuda… kuda” was a model of stylish, beautiful singing and garnered the largest ovation of the evening, reminding this reviewer of the young Neil Shicoff in the role.

The handsome Castronovo was also no slouch in his acting performance, giving us a Lensky both passionate in his love for Olga and furious in his simmering jealousy. There was a real desperation in Castronovo’s Lensky, and it made the duel challenge make perfect sense.

Alisa Koloslava made a very impressive American opera debut as Olga, charming and vivacious, and the voice was always impressive in size and purity of tone. The stentorian Russian bass Dmitry Belosselsky gave impressive presence to the gorgeous aria of Prince Gremin, though the final low notes were lost in the orchestra.

The always-impressive Jill Grove as Filipyevna and Katherine Goeldner as Madame Larina were delightful in their matronly affection for their wayward daughters. Tenor Keith Jameson was a too-small voiced Triquet. In the tiny role of Zaretsky, Lensky’s second in the duel, bass Patrick Guetti had a sit-up-and-take-notice powerful and cavernous bass. I think we’ll be hearing much more from this Ryan Opera Center member.

Happily, this brings us to the fine Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role, cutting a glamorous figure and presenting an unusually sensitive Onegin. His potent vocal work never wavered or faltered, singing with brilliance and phrasing with aplomb. His voice and acting were especially powerful in the final act, where the travelled and deeply bored Onegin rediscovers his passion for Tatiana and tries desperately to woo her away from her husband Prince Gremin. I doubt there’s a better Onegin on the world’s stages today.

A few production moments were troublesome, particularly the powdered-wig valets changing Onegin’s clothes for the ball scene in full view of the audience. It simply went on too long, and though I’m sure many in the audience were happy to see the shirtless Kwiecien, it seemed gratuitous and not a little vulgar.

I also got rather tired of the use of the scrim, particularly in the Duel Scene, when the entire thing takes place in shadow—we never even got to see Mr. Guetti’s face! While colorful and interesting varied, Christine Binder’s lighting seemed too dark throughout, though I much appreciated the stark white light that lent an appropriate coldness to the final scene.

As always, I must commend the fine work of the Lyric Opera Chorus under Michael Black’s exceptional leadership. In this opera, they were called upon to do significant choreography as well as singing, and they worked splendidly.

This has been, overall, one of Lyric Opera’s finest seasons in many a year. Casting and singing in small roles has been unusually fine. Let’s hope this continues into the 2017-18 season, where casting seems significantly more “iffy”, though I’m all are excited about Christine Goerke in Die Walkure.

Photo by Stefany Phillips.

  • QuantoPainyFakor

    Hopefully someone will be able to report about the Domingo Gala at LOC later this week.

    • swordsnsolvers

      I considered attending this as I am interested in hearing Michael Spyres as Alfredo (they are doing Traviata act 2) but the ticket prices were way too steep for me

  • chicagoing

    I am looking forward to attending this production on Saturday night but regret the promotional sign hanging off the side of the building which reads “EUGENE ONEGIN HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU.”

    • Cicciabella

      Shouldn’t that be: HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU -- JUST YET?

      • Camille

        hahahahaha! score one for Ciccia.

        Ain’t that the way it always goes, too? ESPECIALLY in Russian novels — A loves B loves C loves D loves A —- repeat and rinse.

  • Yige Li

    I agree that Ana Maria’s voice didn’t bloom, though not sure it’s a vocal-fitting problem. My personal feeling is that it’s the Russian vowels giving her problems. Comparing her vocal production in this role with that of usual Russian sopranos with some “traditional” Russian shrillness on top, Anna Netrebko (a Russian soprano with out shrillness, though it seems she needs to give up a little bit the clarity of diction to achieve that smoothness), and Renee Fleming (a no-Russian speaking American), one can find a lot of similarity between Ana Maria and Renee. I remember reading in the comment section on this blog that some one reported a recent interview in which Ana Maria said Russian is harder for her to remember. In the opening night broadcast, the prompter was crazily loud (and only for Tatiana’s line), reminding me of the live recordings from 1950s. Also, remember this is her role debut (and I assume her first Russian role), and it seems Lyric didn’t provide her a language coach--at least Lyric doesn’t list language coach as a member of production team as MET does. So, I would say, there should be room for improvement. And any knowledgeable people here can give a lecture of how similar or different it is between Russian and Czech (for me, they are both Slavic…)? I remember Ana Maria did a wonderful Rusalka 3 years ago.

    • chicagoing

      In an interview here Ms. Martinez reported that learning this Russian role took “months of dedication” and that she worked daily with a Russian coach “who lives in Houston” where she is based. Interesting to note that the last time this opera was presented at LOC the announced Tatayana, Barbara Fritolli, dropped out citing difficulty with mastering the language as the reason. She was replaced with a Russian born alumna of Lyric’s Ryan Center, Dina Kuznetsova.

      • Porgy Amor

        I remember that statement from Frittoli. She handled it well, giving about eight months’ notice and being frank about the trouble she was having getting Russian into her head. “[A]fter studying for more than a year, the language, alphabet, and pronunciation continue to elude my grasp. To hope for a ‘miracle’ can only put the production at risk. Therefore, the only ‘miracle’ for which I truly hope is that Lyric Opera will generously re-invite me in the near future.”

        • Yige Li

          This brings out an interesting question: how many Tatianas in major houses one can think about do not have Russian/East European background?

          And is Russian language giving special difficulty for sopranos? As one can find a lot of non-Russian/East European Onegins and Lenskys.

          • Rick

            In the past some famous ones, such Ms Freni and Ms Söderström, in the very recent past Ms Fleming (in my view one of her best roles), and now I can only think of Ms Car. Didn’t Nuccia Focile record it?

            • Armerjacquino

              Yes, as did Te Kanawa and (for TV) Margaret Price, but both did it in English (as did Cotrubas when I saw her at Covent Garden).

              Mattila was a big success not too long ago. I think it’s still quite a calling card nowadays, and not just for Eastern European or Russian singers.

            • Armerjacquino

              Nylund sings it too, right?

            • stevey

              Hi Yige Li, Rick, Armer, and everyone! :-)

              With a deferential bow to Kruno, he doesn’t seem to be around here right now, so I’m going to see if I can honourably fill in for him this time…

              Tatiana’s I can think of that I KNOW sung it in Russian…

              Anna Tomowa-Sintow (Bulgaria)
              Solveig Kringelborn (Sweden)
              Hillevi Martinpelto (Norway)
              Corinne Winters (Great Britain)
              Krassimira Stoyanova (Bulgaria)
              Fiorenza Cedolins (Italy)
              Adrianne Pieczonka (Canada (she was terrific in the final scene opposite Hampson)
              Raina Kabaivanska (Bulgaria)
              Gabriela Benackova (Slovakia)
              Susan Chilcott (Great Britain (she died WAY too young… :-(
              Teresa Zylis-Gara (Poland)
              Teresa Kubiak (Poland)
              Virginia Zeani (Bulgaria)
              Annalena Persson (Sweden)
              Kristine Opolais (Latvia)
              Julia Varady (Hungary)
              Catherine Malfitano (U.S.A.)
              Ainhoa Arteta (Spain)
              Barbara Haveman (Holland)

              Sena Jurinac (either Bosnia or Croatia, I forget which) sang it in more than one language, and I think Russian was ONE of them…
              Leonie Rysanek (Austria) and Evelyn Lear (U.S.A.) both did in it German (not sure about Russian)
              I know Leontyne Price (U.S.A.) performed it at least once… anyone know if that was in Russian?
              And I imagine Lucine Amara (U.S.A.) sang it- she sang EVERYTHING!!

              If we want to get all OCD here, both Leyla Gencer and Mara Zampieri also sang it. Guess which language! :-)

              Anybody else??

            • Camille

              well, there’s Mirella Freni, but I think she’s already mentioned somewhere.

              Pretty sure Amara would have sung that in English, no?

            • Bill

              At the Met Amara sang Tatiana in English and I think it was pretty much an all North American cast at first with George London and Richard Tucker.

            • Yige Li

              Gencer of course did it in Italian. Even Tebaldi did it--in Italian, of course (though just a few times, and not sure if there exists recording for the whole opera). Well, according to MET archives, the MET’s first Tatiana was Claudia Muzio (with Giuseppe De Luca and Giovanni Martinelli as Onegin and Lensky)--sung in Italian of course.

              What I actually wanted to ask in the first place was CURRENT Tatianas. Because it feels Onegin is more frequently mounted now than, say, several decades ago. It’s natural to ask about the supply. Still, it’s interesting to discuss the history, and I’m enjoy reading people’s input here.

            • Wondering if Gencer might have sung it in Turkish, I went to see how the Turks do it these days and find it’s in Russian (and the audience seem to like it)…

              https://secure.dobgm.gov.tr/opera2013/wklip.aspx?EserKodu=1587&FlvKodu=1

            • Bill

              Just to point out Virginia Zeani is Romanian.
              not Bulgarian -- and Romanian is a romance language not a slavic language.

              However many people growing up in the
              East Block prior to 1989 or so had to study
              Russian in school after World War II so they might have had a heads up when having to learn Tatiana in Russian.

              Actually singers these days have it a bit easier in the most of the major international opera houses utilize the original language of the opera and singers can move from opera house to opera house and essay their roles in only one language. Even only late in the last century Leonie Rysanek when she took on the Kusterin in Jenfa
              had to sing in in German in Vienna, in Czech in New York and Brno, and in English in Sidney. After WWII all the singers from Vienna who were engaged at Covent Garden (Hotter, Welitsch, Seefried, Schwarzkopf etc.) had to sing their roles in English and then when at La Scala sing the same roles in Italian whereas at the time
              in Vienna everything was sung in German
              until 1957 or so.

              The Met was the exception with most
              operas save The Magic Flute for example or Slavic operas being done in the original language. When I was first going to the opera at the Met, Boris was done in
              English and I saw George London,
              Jerome Hines, Nicolai Rossi-Lemeni and
              Cesare Siepi all singing Boris in
              English.

              .

            • Porgy Amor

              I know Leontyne Price (U.S.A.) performed it at least once… anyone know if that was in Russian?

              She sang it six times at the Met, in English, in 1964. Said Kolodin: “Apt as she is in criminal cases (such as Aida vs. the state of Egypt, or the killing in self-defense of Baron Scarpia), Leontyne Price has yet to prove her equal abilities in domestic relations. These, after all, turn on delicate nuances of character as well as a grasp of situation, and Miss Price was at a disadvantage in dealing with the wavery character of the youthful Tatiana. She excels in broad strokes of musical logic, which do not yet suffice for a certain letter of intention addressed to Onegin. There was greater weight in her closing address of renunciation, but the whole case could have been better prepared.”

              She recorded the Letter Scene in Russian on one of her albums, but she may never have sung the whole role in that language. I would lean that way, just given the era.

            • Armerjacquino

              Brilliant work! I have two miniscule pieces of housekeeping.

              I have Amara-s Tatyana- she is on the famous live recording from the Met (in English) under Mitropoulous and opposite London.

              The brilliant Corinne Winters is American.

            • Rowna Sutin

              Zeani is Romanian I believe -- but don’t take my word for anything -- I recently argued my mistaken answer on Trivia night at the Met -- and I was wrong!

            • Camille

              You’re right today and as it is International Women’s Day you cannot go wrong. . Bingo, you’ve won!

            • Bill

              Tatiana in Vienna was sung in German until 1988 when Freni sang it in Russian as did
              Cotrubas (Romanian) , Benackova (Slovak), Tomowa-Sintov (Bulgarian), Angela Denoke, Adrianne Pieczonka (Canadian -- and she had previously sung it in German at the Volksoper). Previous to 1988 Welitch (Bulgarian), Reining, Rysanek, Jurinac (Croat), Eva Marton (Hungarian), Zyllis Gara (Pole) among others sang it in German, When the Met first did it with Bing at the helm, Lucine Amara sang Tatiana in English and I do not recall when the Met first did it in Russian

        • Sonya Yoncheva is due to sing it in paris this spring. she’s bulgarian.

          • Porgy Amor

            Ms. Car has replaced Yoncheva in that Paris production.

            In a statement the soprano said that Tatiana no longer suited her “both in terms of the character and of her musical writing.” She also noted that she would not sing the role in any future production. Yoncheva was to sing “Eugene Onegin” in the June run of the Paris Opera alternating with Anna Netrebko. In December Yoncheva made her role debut as Tatiana at the Deustche Oper Berlin where critics praised her work.

            (OperaWire)

      • Yige Li

        Thank you for providing accurate details of the interview.

  • Yige Li

    And, I’d like to know where did the reviewer sit? This is the first time I saw the Carsen/Levine light-box live. I adore this production on DVD and actually said some harsh words when MET replaced it with the current boring production. But to my disappointment, the live experience from the upper balcony didn’t reach my high expectation. The light was dim (I assume the reflection would be seen better in lower level). The stage feels overcrowded in ball scenes and too empty when with only a few people (for your reference, the stage floor is almost a 4:3 rectangle watched from top). And the leaves cover the whole stage which give such a poetic feeling in DVD are just to messy seen from upstairs. Maybe it’s not a cheap-seat friendly production…

  • Marcello

    I just learned that Kurt Moll has passed away at 78.

    • Bill

      Moll -- One of the finest basses of his era following in the grand tradition of Ludwig Weber, Frick, Edelmann, Kurt Boehme, Riddersbusch etc --

  • Porgy Amor

    I doubt there’s a better Onegin on the world’s stages today.

    I like the Kweech, but Mattei is my favorite among the present ones.

    Thanks for the interesting review of this modern classic production.

  • Cicciabella

    I believe the name is Alisa Kolosova -- a young mezzo with a beautiful voice.

  • Camille

    I liked Peter Mattei very much but somehow there was a tiny something off — I’m not exactly sure what that was either. The whole impetus for our current production was to afford the opportunity of joining up Netrebko with Hvorostovsky, and now, most unfortunately, MOST unfortunately, that cannot be. For me, who has seen Her Nebs twice and Mattei twice already, it’ll probably be a pass, unless I hear absolutely jaw dropping reports from the house. Or hear something jaw dropping over the transmission. Could be…….

  • chicagoing

    I just had to go on record before this production closes to document how grateful I am to LOC that they borrowed this staging (for the second time) if only so that I could have the opportunity to see it. I took this in from the main floor, about row 16 ,and found it to be the most beautifully lit and costumed production I have seen in Chicago. I thought the cast was strong top to bottom and was so impressed that I returned on Friday to see it again after taking in the fifth performance on Saturday the 11th. I had a scare when there was an announcement from the stage on my first visit. Mariusz Kwiecien had a cold but would perform. He did not seem to be suffering and I noted that it was probably not a bad thing that his character had opportunities to drink at several points. Loved the way he flicked the glass after emptying it to send any final drops to the ground. I don’t hear much about Charles Castronovo but I have to wonder why after hearing his Lenski’s aria. Powerful. Standing behind a scrim on a bare stage wearing an overcoat that he clutched to himself by the lapels he was extraordinary.Show stopping. I am sure Kwiecien did not mind shooting him dead shortly thereafter. Perhaps it should not be surprising that I could discern that Mr. Kwiecien sang much more strongly the second night, apparently recovered. Ms. Martinez seemed secure and was a believable young woman assisted by her slim figure. As previously noted, Peter Guetti from their young artist program made a huge impression as Zaretsky. It is a pity that he is not making it onto the stage as often as some of his peers. Odd moment on Saturday when the conductor, Alejo Perez, half turned to the audience in response to a slow premature clap as Gremin’s aria was concluding. Final performance tonight after which Mr. Kwiecien sings three performances in the role at the Met beginning March 30th.