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Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production of Eugene Onegin is a re-release, filmed at the Palais Garnier on a visit by the Bolshoi to Paris in 2008. The director manages to revolutionise the opera without actually doing anything untoward to it – anyone dropping in on the film will recognise it, there is no shock value for the sake of it. But it is so sophisticated in its simplicity, so elegant and taut, that it packs a visceral punch. The set is a large room in a prosperous house, upgraded a class for the Gremins. The Larins’ and Gremins’ guests are well-dressed. No particular time or place obscures the storyline and there is a Chekhovian mood of tears amid the laughter. The young Tatiana is seemingly isolated and unable to interact with others, perhaps an antidote to her mother Larina’s over-emotional state, which veers from mirth to sadness in a moment. Onegin is not cruel for sport but a man who doesn’t know how to react to either the bourgeois world of the Larins or the brittle glamour of the Gremins’ party. Tcherniakov does take a couple of liberties – Triquet’s couplets are allotted to a sozzled Lensky; and the Onegin doesn’t shoot him a duel but accidentally in a tussle over a gun. A long table remains onstage, and this is the focus of life at all levels – it is also how Tatiana and Onegin mark their emotional space, their ends changing for their final confrontation. In her letter scene, a distraught Tatiana collapses as the windows implode and the room is plunged into darkness, the most potent symbol of emotional disintegration imaginable.

The cast is up to the standards of the staging. Mariusz Kwiecień’s Onegin unravels to reveal passion beneath the cool exterior, his baritone fitting the theatre superbly. Tatiana Monogarova’s shy heroine quivers with suppressed passions, wonderfully caught on film, and her dignity as a princess is astounding. Her soprano has a delicious quicksilver quality. Andrey Dunaev is an overly sensitive Lensky with a fine tenor, and Margarita Mamsirova a cheeky Olga. Anatolij Kotscherga is a forceful Gremin who takes control of the final scene; and veteran diva Makvala Kasrashvili an almost scene-stealing Larina. Alexander Vedernikov’s conducting underlines the gloom at the centre of the piece, and he knows when and how to unleash the orchestra to maximum effect; the chorus is outstanding. Interesting extras add life to the scenario.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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