Splendid music, but the staging _ brrr!

Saturday, March 07, 2009
By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer

VIENNA —  Too much snow!

A veritable blizzard hit the stage of the Vienna State Opera Saturday. Snow fell inexorably through much of the three-hour new production of Tchaikovsky's "Eugen Onegin."

It fell, against a pitch-black background, as the heroine was welcoming the rising sun. And it fell even as the action moved to a shady summer garden.

In the last few weeks of a cold, damp, miserable Austrian winter, with sheets of icy rain drumming on the pavement outside, there was simply too much of the white stuff inside_ even if it was supposed to represent a world cold and barren of emotion, or simply the Russian landscape. Fittingly, director Falk Richter was booed at the end of the evening.

But warmth triumphed _ voices brimming with passion and intensity and an orchestral underpinning that was fiery, intense and intimate.

The music was wonderful _ and the winter's chill quickly gave way to thaw, with Seiji Ozawa, conducting his last premiere as State Opera music director combining brazen french horns, tragic woodwinds and tremulous strings with carefully nuanced tempos for the perfect orchestral tapestry.

The singers responded in kind.

"I love Tatiana," Tchaikovsky once said of his heroine in "Onegin" _ and it was easy to see why on Saturday.

Tamar Iveri paired marvelous acting to her supple lyric soprano as the bookish young country girl drawn to _ and spurned by _ the worldly Onegin, only to reject him in the end, leaving him crumpled on stage and intoning, "Oh, my miserable fate!"

She gave full play to both voice and drama in the famous letter scene, moving effortlessly from a low D flat to the higher registers, with her high notes perfect even at difficultly low volumes. And her torment as she anguished about whether to let Onegin know her true feelings was persuasive enough to raise a goose bump or two.

Simon Keenlyside also scored high vocally and dramatically as Onegin, the player who toys first with Tatiana, then with his best friend, Lenski _ ultimately killing him in a duel _ only to be rejected by Tatiana once he recognizes that he loves her. His aria recognizing his folly in the ball scene of the Act III, Scene I, is a wonderful vocal mix that starts off with musing introspection before mutating into a rhapsody of passion.

Ramon Vargas brought his explosive tenor and impassioned acting to the role of Lenski, delivering a moving farewell to life in the duel scene. And Nadia Krasteva rounded out the top principals as Olga, Tatiana's live-for-today sister, whose flirt with Onegin leads to the death of her lover, Lenski.

Also notable: Aura Twarowska as Larina; Margareta Hintermeier as Filipievna; Ain Anger as Gremin, and Alexander Kaimbacher as Triquet. And the State Opera Choir was good enough to draw applause after their very first appearance _ a gesture usually reserved for soloists and their best arias.

It was in all, an evening of warm musical glow.

Snow, or no.

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