Sunday, February 25, 2018

Polish National Opera's quasi-balletic Eugene Onegin puts director Mariusz Treliński centre stage in Dubai

Following the shimmering, eye-catching theatricality of their 2005 production of Aida at Dubai Opera last week, Polish National Opera’s Eugene Onegin offered a poignant, thought-provoking and worthy contrast. Rich in symbolic detail, the production exudes a fresh and inventive style that has been part of the company’s collection for 16 years since it first premiered in 2002.

Olga Busuioc as Tatyana and Michał Partyka as Eugnen Onegin 
Directed to extract as much potency as possible from the text, esteemed Polish film, theatre and opera director, Mariusz Treliński, incorporates much into the storytelling of Tchaikovsky’s penetrating three-act episodic examination of unrequited love based on Pushkin's verse novel of the same name. In what appears to be a concerted interpretation of the expressive nature of Tchaikovsky’s libretto (for which original verses from Pushkin's work were used), Treliński’s Eugene Onegin is a poetically driven and simmering drama all the way through.

Sung with impressive and evocative use of the text, the beautifully shaped lustrous soprano of Olga Busuioc’s dreamy Tatyana and the deeply grained baritone of Michał Partyka’s arrogant, predator-like Onegin made a powerful pair in their disquieting depiction of love and rejection.

“Once more Onegin has crossed my path like a merciless ghost!” Tatyana expresses in the final act, shocked when Onegin reappears years after her being rejected by him. Created as a pivotal metaphor, the haunting, white-coated, silent figure of an old Onegin remained a constant and powerful presence on stage. Likewise nameless (he isn’t credited in the program), this silent actor interacted, coerced, toyed and attacked Tatyana in a captivating performance.

Onegin, depicted as the sophisticated and intellectual gent, fiercely independent, cold-hearted and the generator of a trail of destruction - is he really so despicable? In a clever, perhaps ambiguous way, Treliński seems to punish him as harshly as society has marked him. Onegin sees life differently, he can see himself for who he is and, as for me, the more brutal the ghostly Onegin became, the more the creepy, black-coated real Onegin deserved our sympathy.

Michał Partyka as Eugene Onegin
Tatyana, seemingly receives less as she eventually becomes the stiff society wife of Prince Gremin and haughtily dismisses Onegin’s newly ignited passions. This third act’s parade of haute-couture fashions, elevated mechanical acting and Tatyana’s cemented aloofness, while all serving Treliński’s cause, nevertheless, felt less stabilising to the point of almost overwhelming music, voice and text. Overall, however, this regular use of angular, quasi-balletic style of acting, assisted by Emil Wesolowski’s choreography, added to the poetry of the drama.

Alongside the leading pair, rich and firmly supported mezzo-soprano Monika Ledzion as Tatyana’s outgoing sister Olga, and shiny tenor Pavlo Tostoy, as her unworldly and jealous boyfriend Lensky, sang with inspiring zealousness in sharing a touching contrast to Tatyana and Onegin. As Tatyana’s old attentive nanny Filippyevna, Anna Lubańska was a rich-voiced and robust presence while Joanna Motulewicz suitably and staunchly portrayed the pragmatic Larina, Tatyana’s mother and owner of the rural estate.

Sergii Magera’s short but excellent turn as a noble Prince Gremin came with a strong and glowing ember-toned bass and Aleksander Kruczek brought a little camp and colourful accompaniment and debonair flair with his warm and comforting lyrical tenor. As peasants, ballroom guests and aristocrats, the Polish National Opera Chorus kept in fine step but wavered in a disappointing show of harmony after such refined singing a week prior in Aida. Even Tchaikovsky’s score, expert as the musicians were, lacked integrated consistency when the full force of the Polish National Orchestra played under Andrei Yurkevich’s leadership. But the prominent willowy parts for woodwind were a pleasurable listen.

Act 2, Scene 1: The Ballroom of the Larin House, Eugene Onegin
And then there’s the apples, symbol of the forbidden fruit, in abundance on the Larina family estate. There was also the apple tree, a simple silhouetted cut-out that resembled dripping blood under which a chorus of maidens collected the apples in gentle dance and the scene at which Onegin delivered his sermon-like blunt rejection.

Treliński’s cinematic eye gave each episode intrigue as they unfold with ever-changing but slow-moving shifts. Boris Kudlička’s restrained set elements became especially effective under Felice Ross’ broad palette of vivid lighting. A gramophone used to accompany Olga and Lensky’s first-act dance places the story in the 1920s, helping to pinpoint Joanna Klimas’ part-austere, part-flamboyant and suitably demarcated costumes.

A great deal of satisfaction came from seeing Eugene Onegin in an interpretation that adjusts the lens on the titular character to give it quite a punch and shakeup. Marvellously sung as it was, it’s Treliński that stood centre stage in this instance.

Eugene Onegin
Polish National Opera Production
Dubai Opera
Until 22nd February

Production Photos: Teatr Wielki

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