Tuesday, March 24, 2020

My 'Onegin' experience

The duel in "Eugene Onegin" as imagined in 1901 by the great Russian painter Ilya Repin.

My relationship with the Met and its free opera streaming continues rocky. Like an opera itself, it is!

It is complicated. The opera streams until a certain time the next day, but at some point you lose the subtitles, is my experirence. That is why Howard and I had to watch a different "La Boheme."

And I watched "Eugene Onegin" half and half. Half was the Met production, and half was another.

"Eugene Onegin" took me by surprise. I had not actually intended to watch it. But when they aired it I peeked at it, and then to my surprise something happened. I could not look away.

Howard was laughing at me because I was toting my tablet around and he found me in the bathroom brushing my teeth and watching it!

Then I had to put it away for a bit. I may be in lockdown but I am still busy. I work from home anyway and I have a ton of work to do. When I went back to it later, it pulled the subtitle thing on me, and then it froze up completely.

By that time I was totally hooked. I knew more or less how things worked out because I did see the opera live once.. But I think when I saw it some years ago my mind was addled up over something or other and I could not give Tchaikovsky the attention he deserved. I had to see this drama play out. So I found a different one on YouTube, from Glyndebourne.

I missed Dmitri Hvorovstovsky who had been starring in the Met production. He is so handsome and icy! But this new Onegin grew on me. He is a Polish singer and I cannot begin to spell his name (I can however spell Hvorovstovsky off the top of my head). Let me cut and paste: Wojtek Drabowicz. He is very good too -- he projects the look of a misfit, a definite plus in this situation.

The duel scene got to me. Lensky in the Glyndebourne production is a beautiful man and you just cannot stand it. I actually had not recalled the duel even happening. This seems a good time to admit, I do not like prepping for operas by reading the synopsis. I like being surprised. Before you know it, you will know the opera inside out, and there is a different joy to that. But the first couple times you see an opera, I do not see any reason to read up on it. Enjoy the suspense!

That gets me to one more point: Everyone thinks opera is an acquired taste and they cannot possibly appreciate it. Just sit down and watch "Onegin." Find one with subtitles and sit down with it. Easy.


Tatiana in the Glyndebourne production is not as human as Renee Fleming, who can be wrenching as no one else can. That scene where Tatiana is scorned, Fleming just breaks your heart. She is very bold when it comes to this kind of thing, I mean putting herself into a part.

Tchaikovsky has a kind of Wagnerian thing going on in "Onegin," at least from where I sit, in that the opera is about you. I identify strongly with Tatiana. I was very naive and romantic and sheltered the way she is. So the famous letter scene gets me and so does that terrible scene where Onegin scorns her and lectures her. "I had to listen meekly to your sermon," she tells him later.

That scene later is very satisfying to me, coming from where I am coming from. Tatiana has married a handsome older man, a military hero, and she is a princess. And she has the mental fortitude to stick with her husband. To tell Onegin no.

I found myself talking to the screen. "Tell him to get lost." "Walk away."


When the opera was over I found myself dipping into different productions of "Onegin." Such as this excellent one, in German, starring Hermann Prey. Prey is terrific in this part, which is high praise. He is handsome and has that bedeviled look and that intensity. Speaking of intensity, a young Brigitte Fassbaender is Olga. And ... get this ... Fritz Wunderlich is Lensky.

Let me say that again: Fritz Wunderlich!!


Interesting thing about this production, the ending is different. After Onegin exits in anguish, Tatiana has a bittersweet interlude to herself. She pulls out the letter she wrote to Onegin, and she reflects on what has happened.

All this has been a great learning experience for me. On the minus side, I have not gotten around to much of the Wagner. Here I was looking forward to the Met's Wagner week and all I have watched is the first act of "Tristan und Isolde" which, now it is too late to finish that. I do have some comments but they can wait.

This Coronavirus lockdown different-opera-every-night thing is great but it is like traveling on a whirlwind tour -- you know, 10 cities in 10 days.

Sometimes it is better to spend a week in a city and get to know it! That is my situation with "Eugene Onegin." I fell behind. I could not help it.  I do know the Wagner operas much better but this was new territory for me, and I had to linger a little longer.

Plus, "Tristan," I just could not clear the time in my life. These Wagner operas mean a lot to me and you cannot watch them just anytime. You have to have time when you can concentrate, when you can give them space and attention. You have to treat them with respect.

It is like when you turn on the car radio as you are running errands and they are playing Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony or Beethoven's Ninth, you have to change the station. Masterpieces need space and attention.

I am glad I did right by "Eugene Onegin."

It is a masterpiece!

No comments:

Post a Comment