Barrie Kosky's perfect Tatyana sent a scarlet letter to her obsession – Eugene Onegin; scarlet however, only from the strawberries remaining in the jam jar which she used for delivery, and otherwise filled with the sweet yearnings of an innocent dreamer. This new production of Eugene Onegin by the Komische Oper Berlin is delicious for the eyes, ears and emotions.
Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian gave us an exquisite Tatyana. Dressed with quiet innocence by designer Klaus Bruns she radiated the intensely felt emotions of a post-pubescent dreamer. Glorious baritone Günter Papendell mastered all the mannerisms of the unfortunate prig that Onegin is. I could not have imagined a better Filippyevna than Margarita Nekrasova, and tenor Aleš Briscein was yearning personified as Lensky. His aria, beautifully sung, was heartbreaking. His Olga, Karolina Gumos, was effervescent, but less convincing.
Tchaikovsky's choral interjections take us away from the yearnings of young and old; we're to forget, and just party. Here Mr Kosky had me wondering. The choreography of the chorus, dressed in puritanical pastels, consists largely of overly enthusiastic arm flapping. Individual chorus members stand out and become an annoying distraction. Is this an intentional move to break us out of the quiet contemplation of Tatyana? If so, it works. Otherwise, perhaps some dance lessons are in order? An exception here was the the lovely 'butterfly flapping' of book pages, which affords the notion of a coming of age ritual, or transformation.
Under the baton of was Henrik Nánási, the Komische Oper orchestra captured beautifully the pathos and sentimental tone of Tchaikovsky's many lyrical moments, particularly in the beautiful oboe and horn solos. The singers seemed to float easily above the orchestra, although the string sound was as rich as a pavolva. The masterful play of light and shadow designed by Franck Evin added much as well, alluding to the at times clear, then suddenly shadowy, confused thoughts of Tatyana.
In the first act of Kosky's production fresh strawberry jam is spooned into jars; Tatyana's letter to Onegin is then sealed in one. Onegin casually tosses about the jar containing his letter, (and Tatyana's young heart), his callous motions being echoed in Tatyana's third act rejection of him. During the course of the opera, all of the major characters dip their fingers into the red sweetness in the jars and taste it. Is it the taste – or the memory for some – of spring, youth, virginity? As Tatyana kisses Onegin goodbye forever, his lips are stained red; a final goodbye to youth and yearning.
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