Friday, July 9, 2010

What Women Want and a Waltz; on the Met's 2007 Eugene Onegin

In the film "What Women Want" starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, Nick Marshall (Gibson) catches voltage when both he and a hair-dryer fall into a tub [0:17]:

As a result he can hear what women think.

Without the voltage, Eugene Onegin (Dimitri Hvorostovsky) channels his inner Mel Gibson during the Act II waltz from the 2007 Met broadcast. The dancers are so beautifully compressed on the huge Met stage [0:49] that thoughts of both male and female dancers are squeezed out. They sing in wegotisms:

"This is superb! We never expected such great company, and a band!" The camera is swept to a gentleman sitting on the periphery. This is the poet Lansky (played by Ramón Vargas) who is lost in a book.

A trio. The men sing a phrase while the women are motionless and outside of time. The men sing collective thoughts--"festive occasions are rare in the country, hunting is more typical, it is nice to get a break from the hound and the hare." The music swings from D major to G major and hunting horns sound in the background.

Balance. The guys are now motionless, while the women sing collectively--"That's what guys think is fun--shooting and fishing and getting up early. They come home exhausted when we're looking for fun." The women sing B minor in triads that rub against the bass.

The younger women call on Captain Petrovich to tell them the name of his regiment. He replies "Sure, but why aren't you dancing?" "No one has asked us." "In that case the pleasure is mine!"

When the first strain of the waltz returns as does the key of D major, and the camera pans out to view the entire ensemble. Tatiana (Renée Fleming) dances with Onegin, even though he rejected her in the most cruel way in the prior scene. Tension is palpable.

Onegin "Nick Marshall-izes" the crowd. The women around him think: "Look at them! How sad for Tatiana. If they get married she will find out that he is a tyrant...and I heard that he has a gambling problem..." Moments later they sting him worse; "He's most discourteous and conceited...they say he's a freemason...I hear he gets buzzed on wine all the time."

He hears their collective thoughts.

(Still, how gorgeous are those dresses? Michael Levine was the costume designer. )

Onegin moves outside the circle. His singing moves out-of-sync with the cycles of 4-bar phrases in the dance music. The music turns seamlessly developmental. Tchaikovsky knew how to mess with dance.

Onegin knows how to mess with Lansky. He dances and flirts with Lansky's girl Olga.

We hear the final return of the primary dance music, with the same satisfied text. But this time the design of the set distinguishes who is inside and who is outside. This time the music becomes unhinged with hemiolas and wicked chromatic progressions. This time the guests exit quickly from the diagonals leaving Lansky inside, alone and bewildered.

A storm causes Nick Marshall, from "What Women Want," to lose his gift. Onegin causes his own storms and becomes a victim of his gifts.

1 comment:

  1. Between Freud's "Die grosse Frage, die nie beantwortet worden ist und die ich trotz dreißig Jahre langem Forschen in der weiblichen Seele nie habe beantworten können, ist die: Was will das Weib?" and the recent (terrifying) revelations of Gibson, this post, like others at sonic, challenges us to listen, think, and reply. Bravo.


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