Cher Public

Love me or leaf me

On this day in 1997 Robert Carsen made his Met debut with a new production of Eugene Onegin

Peter G. Davis in New York:

Quite a lot happens onstage of course, and those sensitive to music as it relates to action and character in opera probably had even stronger objections than Met regulars who like to applaud scenery. Carsen’s most controversial stroke was to join Acts Two and Three without a pause, beginning the festive polonaise even as Onegin stares down at the corpse of his friend Lensky, whom he has just shot in a duel. Then, instead of elegant couples dancing at Prince Gremin’s, we watch an impassive Onegin being groomed by valets and setting off on his purposeless life as a bored social lion until fate brings him to the ball, where he remeets and falls hopelessly in love with the now-married Tatiana. With this invention, some insist, Carsen arrogantly hurls himself between us and the opera Tchaikovsky wrote. Perhaps, but I found the device a dramatically effective gloss that tells us something relevant about Onegin while accurately mirroring the feverishly hectic dance music, even if the composer did have something more conventional in mind at this point.

The production’s daredevil sense of economy worked even more impressively earlier, in Tatiana’s bedroom as the girl writes her secret love letter to Onegin – the opera’s key lyrical scene and the incident in Pushkin that originally fired Tchaikovsky’s imagination. Here the all-purpose “box” becomes a cloudless night sky with a fingernail moon looking down on a solitary brass bed, night table, and candlelit writing desk, all surrounded by a carpet of autumn leaves through which Tatiana dreamily wanders as she becomes increasingly gripped by her adolescent passion. It’s a breathtakingly romantic scene, gorgeously lit by Kalman, and a gift to a soprano who could seize the moment, project Tatiana’s heartache, and sing this piercingly beautiful music with radiance.

That is precisely what Galina Gorchakova cannot do, and her colleagues aren’t much better.

[From the 2007 revival.]