Eugene Onegin, whose libretto draws on the novel of the same title by Pushkin, tells us the story of an arrogant, cynical dandy in the early 19th century and his path to self-destruction. Onegin rejects the young, naïve Tatyana – who falls in love with him at first sight – with a condescending sermon. He starts flirting with his good friend Lensky’s fiancée out of spite, and ends up killing him in a duel. Devastated by remorse, he travels. When he returns to St Petersburg, he meets Tatyana again, now an accomplished, admired member of high society, who is married to Prince Gremin, a respected general. Onegin then tries to win her back, but she will not ruin herself for him, leaving him in despair.

Cornelia Beskow (Tatyana)
© Sören Vilks

Russian director Vasily Barkhatov moved the story forward in time to an undefined period between the 1920s and 1950s of last century. The video projection of a sort of intertitle informed us that Madame Larina and her two daughters, Tatyana and Olga, have been left destitute by the death of the head of the family and had to move from St Petersburg to relative Filippyevna’s house in the country. This reminded us of Tatyana’s original, higher social status, which would have been hard to understand from the setting alone. Filippyevna’s house was represented by grey wooden walls, which occasionally slid away to show a slope behind the house. The furniture was simple and poor, and suitcases, used as seats and tables, were ubiquitous, representing the instability of their situation. Tatyana was dressed in simple, unfeminine country clothes and heavy boots. Olga, on the other hand, wore a pink tutu – a hint of her coquetry. The country ball in the second act was replaced by a party in the snow. Onegin, irritated with Lensky for dragging him there and with the neighbours for gossiping about him and Tatyana, started flirting with Olga by riding a sled with her down the slope instead of the usual dancing. The country folks were portrayed as meaner than usual: they mocked and humiliated Tatyana during her name-day celebration, stole and broke china that Madame Larina had saved from her former life, and, most importantly, pushed and incited Onegin and Lensky to fight (a fist fight instead of a duel), which brought about Lensky’s death. The last act, instead of a ball in St Petersburg, showed a cocktail party in a train station hall. Onegin was even more pathetic than usual, trying to crash the party, and the farewell between him and Tatyana, in the train station with suitcases, had a Casablanca feeling to it.

Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (Eugene Onegin)
© Sören Vilks

The singers were regulars of the Royal Swedish Opera, and their performances were generally extremely satisfactory, but Cornelia Beskow stood out as Tatyana. Her characterization of the young, naïve girl was perfect in the first act, with a genuine, contagious outburst of emotion during the letter scene. In the third act, she embodied the sophisticated socialite, and the change in her voice and acting was impressive. Beskow, with her big, perfectly-supported voice and shiny harmonics in the high register, confirmed the strong impression she made here in Stockholm when she performed as Sieglinde and Chrysothemis: she is truly one of the most interesting young sopranos of our time.

Baritone Karl-Magnus Fredriksson’s Onegin was more of a father figure than a dandy, a victim of his own inability to give in to emotions than the usual arrogant, cynical, insufferable bore. His voice was noble and beautiful, although it lacked some presence. Joel Annmo impressed as Lensky. The role clearly suits his voice very well, and his attack of the Act Two finale, “V vashem dome”, in mezza voce, was heartbreaking. Lennart Forsén, as Gremin, was somewhat disappointing in the most beautiful aria of the opera, showing little elegance and a lack of legato.

Joel Annmo (Lensky), Jonas Degerfeldt (Monsieur Triquet) and Karl-Magnus Fredriksson (Onegin)
© Sören Vilks

On the female front, Johanna Rudström was a lively, spirited Olga, while the part of Madame Larina was maybe a bit too low for Susann Végh, who gave the impression of pushing at times. Katarina Leoson seemed more at ease in her part, portraying a strong, believable Filippyevna. The Royal Swedish Orchestra, under the baton of Evan Rogister, played with great energy, maybe too much at times, leaving one wishing for a bit more nuance and delicacy. The famous polonaise introducing the third act was their highlight – it was exciting and pompous, as it should be.