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November 2004
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June 2005

Eugene Onegin

The Netherlands Opera production of Eugene Onegin ended its run at San Francisco Opera today. Director Johannes Schaaf finally brought us something that is stripped down but works, unlike the ugly minimalism of Kát'a Kabanová, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, or Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The lines are clean, but one doesn't feel as if one is stuck in an IKEA furnished flat in Berlin. The birch grove in the first scene is pretty, but not ornate. Undoubtedly, the designer who worked on this, Peter Pabst, had a part in making the set so. The highlight of the staging for the audience was in Act III. An enormous chandelier was lit from below, causing a chain reaction all the way around and up. Bambi Uden did a good job with the choreography, especially in Scene 4, during Tatyana's birthday party, when the chorus linked arms and danced.

In the title role for the first seven performances, baritone Russell Braun was a bit on the quiet side, this was noticeable as it is usually the tenor with this problem. Lucas Meachem also seemed to do well as Onegin, but I was in the orchestra, and the sound is somewhat distorted there. In contrast, tenor Piotr Beczala was absolutely wonderful, his tone sweet and volume powerful. Soprano Elena Prokina was also excellent as Tatyana, very convincing. Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy was charming as Olga, her voice was lovely in the opening with Prokina, and her acting was fiery in Scene 4.

Der Fliegende Holländer at SFO

The last performance of Der Fliegende Holländer this season was this evening. The production came from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Raimund Bauer's set was stark and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer's costumes were reminiscent of samurai from space. Denni Sayers' choreography was slightly clunky, the women spinning their hair was especially absurd.

Soprano Nina Stemme was good as Senta, her voice is has a fine clarity. Bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo was sufficient as the Dutchman, certainly a very strong voice, perhaps lacking in beauty.

The thing that struck me the most about this performance was not the production, but the music. It is filled with drama and excitement, it is more like opera than Wagner's later works. The lack of intermission made the whole work very immediate, one stays in the same world for 150 minutes.