I don’t know much about Tchaikovsky, his music, or his “masterpiece opera” Eugene Onegin. I do, however, know a lot about Anna Netrebko, called by Scott Barnes in Opera News magazine, “…arguably, the biggest international star the opera world has had since Luciano Pavarotti...” and by Deutsche Grammophon recording company,“…the best- selling soprano of the 21st Century…”
Anna Netrebko is the superstar headlining The Metropolitan Opera season’s opening production of Eugene Onegin. Her costars are baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role and tenor Piotr Bezcala in the role of Onegin’s best friend Lenski. Both of these men are fantastic singers and performers, not to mention terribly attractive. And it is these three artists on stage together that has drawn me passionately to this particular opera, which I saw Live in HD last Saturday.
The surprise for me is how much I like Tchaikovsky’s music and his story of love, desire, revenge, jealousy, and heartbreak. In his music, I feel all of the composer’s anguish and pain…and his lighter, joyful moments, which come early in the opera, before it gets murky. I have to say that all of Tchaikovsky’s music in this work is beautiful and evocative. Takes me right into the heart of what is happening to these characters, which is a lot. For me, Eugene—a lost, bored, and empty soul—is not the star of the show. However, it is the effect he has on other characters that drives the plot.
The star of the show is Tatiana. The range of emotion that Tchaikovsky’s Tatiana experiences gives Anna Netrebko—a compelling actress of much depth, breadth, and force—a role to chew on. And she does. She inhabits this part so fully that I cannot separate the superstar from the person she is playing. Shy, introspective, living in a world of literature and dreams at the beginning, after meeting Onegin Tatiana is thunderstruck and whispers to herself, “He is the one.” Finally, she has fallen in love--madly. The much-talked about Letter Scene, where Tatiana composes a missive to be hand-delivered to Onegin declaring her love, is a tour de force: lyrically, musically, dramatically. It goes on for some time. I never take my eyes, ears, or attention from Anna Netrebko as she visibly, viscerally becomes everything the composer expresses. And she tears down the house! Almost literally. Her rich, clear, impassioned and soaring voice metamorphoses into one that is restrained, reflective and tender with uncertainty—and back again. Her singing and acting are so joined in the heart that I am now in her, feeling what she feels with such vibrancy that I do not want to come out. Tatiana is so spent by her passionate trip on the emotional roller coaster of love that after the final note she collapses on her back onto the floor of the room. And the audience in The Met Opera House goes wild jumping to their feet and applauding hard, loud, and long, shouting, “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!,” for minutes and minutes. Anna is lying still on the floor. Eventually, clapping and Bravo-ing are no longer enough to express our ardor and the audience screams, “An-na! An-na! An-na!” and we go on like this for minutes and minutes and minutes. Anna is still lying on the floor. At some point—how does she decide when?—Anna Netrebko begins softly and tenderly to sing again—motionless on her back, on the floor—the most expressive, beautiful, clear, pure, openhearted note I have ever heard. All this is why Opera News’s September 2013 cover story of Netrebko is titled:
"The Age Of Anna
They Don’t Call It Electricity Anymore.
They Call It Netrebko.”
This production of Eugene Onegin has been one of the greatest musical and dramatic experiences of my life. I am thrilled to know that now it is in me for eternity!