©Jef Rabillon pour Angers Nantes Opéra
For his staging of this 1997 production that Angers Nantes Opéra fortunately has taken up again this season, Alain Garichot refers himself to Tchaikovsky’s own words. In 1877, he writes in a letter: “… I need a staging without luxury but that keeps strictly to the era. The costumes absolutely have to be from the time of the action (that is the 1820s)….” Elsa Pavanel’s set is without luxury indeed: naked tree trunks, marked like driftwood, symbolize nature and the countryside of Acts I and II, but also the relentlessness of time that goes by and of the drama to come. A blue background, clever lighting, and a few bits of furniture, and the stage is set. Claude Masson’s beautiful costumes identify the characters: Eugene Onegine is very elegant in a tailcoat, riding boots and breeches – the very country gentleman. Elegant, arrogant and blasé, this Onegin reminds us of another literary hero of his time, to wit, Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy. Baritone Charles Rice incarnates him very convincingly. Next to him, the poet Lensky looks just correct, in his slightly crumpled black suit. He’s a poet after all, and tenor Suren Maksutov gives him depth and sensitivity, very poignant in his aria in Act II. Poignant also the little duo with Onegin, the friends’ despair is heartbreaking here. As for the ladies, the nurse Filipievna, played by the excellent mezzo Stefania Toczyska, is cleverly distinguished from the mistresses of the house by her bonnet and dress that discreetly resemble the peasant’s clothes, in fifty shades of beige. The ladies Larina appear first in simple home and country dresses, later in grand ball gowns. Their acting at the arrival of their visitors again brings to mind Mamma Bennet and her daughters, and Tatiana’s romantic attitude shows her as a distant cousin of Marianne Dashwood. Indeed, political systems were more or less the same throughout Europe at the time. Gelena Gaskarova, soprano, is Tatiana. With her generous and glowing voice, she masters all the aspects of her role, and we forget to breath through the letter scene and we feel her shame as Onegin repudiates her later. The remarkable contralto Claudia Huckle gives life and voice to Olga – a pity that her part is so comparably small. Mezzo-soprano Diana Montague is remarkable as well, in the role of Madam Larina. Act III takes place on a naked scene, in front of an enormous projection of the moon. Here we encounter the count Gremin, Tatiana’s husband. Oleg Tsibulko interprets him with his fine bass voice of dark velvet. Each member of the cast is totally dedicated to his or her character, and thus, carried by Tchaikovsky’s bitter-sweet music and Łukasz Borovicz’ subtle and discreet conducting, the fascinating drama is played out, this pitiless chain of events, brought about by social conventions of which everyone is finally the victim. No wonder that the opera is so popular, with the libretto’s sharp psychology and the music that follows it closely. In this production, the staging follows the music and so we see an intelligently poignant and effective show tonight. We go out into the street, a bit melancholic and the head full of music – and questions. If Mr Darcy had not been saved by Elizabeth, had he ended up like Onegin, killing maybe in a duel his friend Bingley? What has become of Olga? And: How did Russia become so far away and so unknown to as if there was a time when she was part of a differently united Europe?