BWW Review: Netrebko and Mattei Spin Magic from Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN at the Met

BWW Review: Netrebko and Mattei Spin Magic from Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN at the Met

BWW Review: Netrebko and Mattei Spin Magic from Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN at the Met It's getting near the end of the season at the Met in New York and it's nice to see that they're still bringing out their "A" game. The splendidly cast run of Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN found the company in fine fettle, with the wonderful Met orchestra under the sensitive baton of Robin Ticciati, music director at the Glyndebourne Festival and the Met's chorus, under Donald Palumbo.

Soprano Anna Netrebko turned in another one of her magic acts at the Met, on April 12, with a gorgeously sung performance of Tatiana in the Tchaikovsky work, which is based on one of Russia's most beloved novels. Oh sure, she didn't exactly come across as a teenager in Act I--few can--but, nonetheless, the emotions and commitment behind the role and its music had me hooked. Her "Letter Scene" was devastating, as was her reaction to being dismissed by Onegin, a blase, older man.

As the opera progressed, she increasingly became one with the role, until the last act, when she spurns the advances of Onegin, one-upping his mistreatment of her at the opera's start. Though she was a great Lady Macbeth and Leonora in IL TROVATORE at the Met, she's never more convincing than when she sings in her native tongue and this was proof of it; she was wonderful from her letter scene until she walked off stage, leaving the broken Onegin at the end.

This was baritone Peter Mattei's first performance of the season in the title role (Mariusz Kwiecien did earlier ones), though he's no stranger to it; he's done it here before, as well as in Paris, Vienna and Salzburg--and he didn't disappoint. He was one of the singers called into action by the continued ill health of Dmitri Hvorostovsky, but he was certainly no second fiddle. A fine actor as well as a thoughtful singer--and with a looming stage presence that adds more to the portrayal--you could understand why a budding young woman might immediately fall for him. At the end, Mattei seems so broken after Tatiana, now a grand dame, turns her back and walks away, that you can almost feel sorry for him--but only just.

In the smaller but key role of Prince Gremin, Stefan Kocan was just the right foil for Mattei's Onegin to realize how badly he underestimated what Tatiana could offer and his foolish rejection of her advances in the first act. Frequently cast as an ancient suitor whom Tatiana has apparently married simply for money, here he seems a good match for her--and, in return, has had his life enriched by his marriage, much to Onegin's regret. His aria "Lyubvi fse vozrasti pokorni" (all right, call it "Gremin's aria") was so heart-felt and truthful that one could feel Onegin wanting to kick himself for not having seen Tatiana's potential all those years before.

The cast offered a trio of mezzos that added much to the proceedings: Elena Maximova's lovely voice blended in well as Tatiana's younger sister, Olga, while Elena Zaremba was their dignified mother; Larissa Diadkova was fine as Tatiana's nurse. Tenor Alexey Dolgov sang the role of Lenski, Olga's fiancé and friend to Onegin--until a tragic turn ends in a duel to the death for him. He sang the role well enough, but in the right hands, it can be a scene-stealer, particularly with his aria, "Kuda, kuda vï udalilis (Where have you gone, o golden days of my spring?)." It didn't happen this time around.

This was a troubled production at its premiere, with Fiona Shaw stepping in for Deborah Warner as the director. House director Paula Williams kept things moving but couldn't fix some basic flaws. The major problem is its rather drab design by Tom Pye (though there was exemplary video design by Ian William Galloway and Finn Ross that, unfortunately, wasn't always in focus), but scale was also an issue. The dancing sequences by Kim Brandstrup look quite cramped, first in the Larin home with its famous waltz and then at Prince Gremin's palace, with its polonaise taking place among a plethora of columns.

However, no issue with the scenery could distract from the superlative singing of Netrebko and Mattei, who brought Tchaikovsky's opera brilliantly to life.

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Additional performances include the evening of April 19 and the Saturday, April 22 matinee, which will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD series, which is now seen in more than 2,000 movie theaters in 71 countries around the world. Running time: 3 hours and 38 minutes, two intermissions.

Curtain times vary: complete schedule here.

Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

Same-day $25 rush tickets for all performances of EUGENE ONEGIN are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.