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Subject: Eugene Onegin at the Met on April 12
From: Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 16 Apr 2017 13:58:58 -0400

text/plain (110 lines)

Dear Listers,

On Thursday evening, April 12, I attended a performance of “Eugene Onegin” at the Met, 
the first performance in which Peter Mattei sang the title role, succeeding Mariusz 
Kwiecien.  The auditorium was packed, with many Russians in attendance.

I don’t like this production, with its cheap-looking, bare and rather Spartan sets.  It 
looked like the kind of production you would expect at a second-string, provincial 
European opera house.  The grand ballroom scene at the Gremins’ palace in Saint 
Petersburg consisted of eight unornamented columns arranged in two parallel rows.  The 
polonaise was performed behind those columns by dancers silhouetted against a blueish 
backdrop.  A couple of chairs, a couple of lackeys, and that was it.

The stage direction was uneven, sometimes very good, but sometimes absurd.  I thought 
the staging of the letter scene, for example, was ridiculous.  As we all know, Tatiana is 
supposed to be writing a letter during most of that scene.  That’s why it’s called “the 
letter scene,” duh.  As Tatiana launched into the letter aria, she sat, appropriately, at a 
little writing table and scribbled not more than a few words before crumpling the paper 
and tossing it away.  Then she paced the stage from left to right, from right to left, etc. 
etc. and continued doing this for the entire duration of the letter aria, stopping once or 
twice at the writing table to scribble a couple of words for a couple of seconds.  Then, at 
the end of the letter scene, she hands her nurse Filippyevna a folded letter that has 
magically appeared out of nowhere and asks her to send her grandson to deliver it to 
Onegin, etc. etc.  So when did Tatiana write this letter?  It’s a shame because Anna 
Netrebko’s singing was so electrifying.

Another bit of staging that I disliked was the duel.  It was fought with long-barreled rifles!  
Rifles?  I’ve never heard of such a thing.  It’s supposed to be a duel, not a country 
butchering.  Poor little Lenski never stood a chance.

And now to the most important part, the singing.  Anna Netrebko was at the top of her 
form, dazzling, absolutely fabulous.  You could tell she was singing in her native 
language, and that the story meant a lot to her, as it does, I think, to all Russians, 
because she poured so much soul and fire into her performance.  She gave 150% of 
herself and received a thunderous ovation at the end of the letter scene and again at the 
final curtain call.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better Tatiana.  My memories of Galina 
Vishnevkaya’s performance at Paris in 1970 have now grown very dim, all I can 
remember is that it too was a fabulous performance, but honestly after 47 years I 
couldn’t tell you who was better.

I loved Peter Mattei’s voice.  It has a beautiful timbre and color, and he sings with great 
elegance and refinement.  Listening to him I thought that this is what his fellow Swede 
Nicolai Gedda would have sounded like had he been a baritone.  Does anyone know if 
Mattei coached with Gedda?  I’m not sure, though, whether Mattei is an ideal Onegin.  His 
singing, however excellent and beautiful it was, lacked that particular sort of Russianness 
that we would have gotten from Dmitri Hvorostovsky or another Russian singer.  During 
the intermissions I spoke with a number of Russians who were milling about, and also 
with a charming Russian young lady who sat on my left, and all of them expressed 
disappointment with Mattei.  They told me he had a strong foreign accent in Russian (*I* 
certainly wouldn’t know), which they found unpleasant, and that he wasn’t convincing as 
Onegin.  They expected more malevolence and brutality out of him, if I understood them 
correctly.  The Russians I spoke with loved all of the other singers, but then most of them 
were Russian.  I got the impression that Russians feel very proprietary about this opera, 
indeed about all Russian operas.

Mattei is known primarily as a Mozart singer, from what I have read and heard, for which 
the elegance and refinement of his voice are ideally suited.  I had never heard him 
before, and I certainly enjoyed his performance very much in spite of the little 
reservation above.  I would love to hear him again in something other than “Onegin,” in a 
Mozart or a “bel canto” opera.  Mattei is a very tall and handsome man and has great 
stage presence.  I noticed that he often sang with his head bowed, and I wondered why 
until I realized that he is so tall he towered over everyone else on the stage, so that he 
appears to be “singing down” to other cast members.  Has anyone else noticed this?  It 
was particularly noticeable when he was interacting with the Lenski, who was very short.  
Their difference in size was almost comical when they stood next to each other.

This brings me to the Lenski, sung by Alexey Dolgov.  A wonderful singer with blond good 
looks and a lovely golden tenor voice, Dolgov brought much pathos and vulnerability to 
the part.  An excellent actor as well, he gave a very appealing characterization of the 
idealistic and heroic young poet.  The Russians in the audience, most of whom appeared 
to be women, just adored him.  The young lady on my left told me she just wanted to 
take him home with her before the duel and shield him from that nasty Onegin.

Elena Maximova’s portrayal of Olga was outstanding musically and theatrically.  By the 
way, does anyone know whether Pushkin’s verse novel tells us what happened to Olga 
after the fateful duel?  The opera doesn’t and I’ve often wondered.

Excellent performances were also put in (not “putin,” ha, ha, ha) by Elena Zaremba (Mme 
Larina) and Larissa Diadkova as the nurse Filippyevna).

I always look forward to Monsieur Triquet’s couplets, which I think are charming, but 
Bryan Downen’s rendition was a disappointment.  His French was unintelligible to this 
native French speaker and his voice and vocal characterization were unremarkable.  I 
kept wishing for Michel Sénéchal.

The Met orchestra and chorus, led by Robin Ticciati, were their usual outstanding selves.

My next opera will be “Lucia di Lammermoor” at La Fenice on May 2nd and I look forward 
to that with trepidation and excitement.

Cheers and all the best,


Alain Letort
Washington, D.C.
Des Ungeheuers Höhle

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