Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tchaikovsky - Eugene Onegin - Mackerras (English version opera)

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If you tend to regard opera translations from a distance (probably having experienced some rather awkward ones), rest assured that this English version of Tchaikovsky's greatest opera is an overall success. David-Lloyd Jones' translation falls easily on the notes, no doubt aided by Tchaikovsky's flowing and very conversational word-setting of the original Russian (which I suspect was easier to match than, say, Italian would have been). Most importantly, Tchaikovsky's version of Pushkin's drama gains immeasurable impact when you can immediately comprehend it in your native language. Tatiana's letter scene grips as never before: how could she express such things to a man she only just met? You understand even more Onegin's rejection of her affections, but cringe still at his pompous lecturing. Lensky comes across just as cloying, and even more annoying, in English. (So shoot him, already!) However, this is not any commentary on Neil Rosenshein's performance; his bright, lyric tenor voice perfectly suits Lensky's swooning waif character.

Thomas Hampson is pretty much business-like in his portrayal of the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky by Nikolay Kuznetsov, 1893 detached Onegin, bringing little of Dmitri Hvorstovsky's passion and humanity. However, he really lets his hair down emotionally in the final scene with Tatiana, and I actually felt bad for the boy. Kiri Te Kanawa's sound is so well-popularized (especially from her Broadway musical recordings) that at first it was a little difficult to hear the character and not the singer. However, she delivers a powerfully moving performance in the letter scene, though like many sopranos in this role, she never sounds like a teenage girl (she's better suited to the more mature Tatiana of Act 3). The Welsh National Opera chorus makes outstanding contributions throughout, even if it does seem a little odd to hear "Fa, la, la" instead of "Vainu" in the Peasant's Dance. Charles Mackerras leads a sensitive, colorful, and passionate account of Tchaikovsky's score (which should come as no surprise to those who heard his wonderful recording of the Nutcracker) with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. Fabulous sound from Chandos. Yeah, I know, it's not the original Russian, but it's fun!--Victor Carr Jr.

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