Thursday, July 8, 2010

Met Live in HD; Fleming and Hvorostovsky in Eugene Onegin

Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin was filmed at the Met on February 24, 2007 with Renée Fleming as Tatiana and Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin.

Fleming brought many colors to Tatiana, none more compelling than the moment, in the midst of writing her love letter to Onegin, when the music sinks unexpectedly into D-flat major and oboe is answered by horn [4:20]:

"Are you my guardian angel? Will you tempt then discard me?
Resolve my doubts."
"Is my dream a delusion? Am I too innocent to tell?
Perhaps I have a completely different destiny."

Simple gestures, simple camera angles, simply great art.

"Heaven sends us habit," sings Madame Larin at the opening of the opera, "in place of happiness." Eugene Onegin is an opera where nostalgia for lost youth comes in steady supply.

Onegin believes that if he stays in motion that youth will not abandon him. He commits to restlessness. In this scene he rejects Tatiana and crushes her dreams:

The female chorus that opened the third scene swept a circular clearing in the autumn leaves that covered the stage, and the color scheme shifted back to the golds that were featured in the first scene.

Onegin sings:
"Were I the sort who had intended to lead a calm domestic life; if lasting happiness depended upon marriage, then you would have been perfect."

Hvorostovsky conceals challenges in elegance. Here, the task is to make these discursive sentences sing. The musical lines are written in straight 8ths with one or two longer notes at the end of each phrase, one can easily lose direction in this aria. He doesn't.

The restlessness in Onegin's character surfaces again at [2:07] as the harmony oscillates between B-flat major and G minor. Hvorostovsky changed the octave of the final F of the aria [3:20] perhaps underlining the culmination for all the active motion of this aria. It was not needed.

There was no break between Act II and Act III in this production, so the famous Polonaise at the opening of Act III was used as an opportunity to carry the body of Lensky offstage and simultaneously to undress then redress Onegin for future conquests. This compression of Acts allowed tension from the duel to hang in the air during the third act--it was a very effective structural device.

"We cannot bring back the past," sings Tatiana to a heart-broken Onegin in the final scene. Happily, the Met can.

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