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Eugene Onegin [audio recording] by Pyotr…
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Eugene Onegin [audio recording]

by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin – Yuri Mazurok
Tatyana – Anna Tomowa-Sintow
Vladimir Lensky – Nicolai Gedda
Prince Gremin – Nicola Ghiuselev

Madame Larina – Stefka Popangelova
Filipyevna – Margarita Lilowa
Olga – Rossitza Troeva-Micheva
Captain – Stoil Georgiev
Zaretsky – Dimitar Stanchev
Monsieur Triquet – Michel Lecocq

Sofia National Opera Chorus
Sofia Festival Orchestra
Emil Tchakarov


Recorded: January 1988, National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sony Classical, 2009. 2CD. TT 143:37. No libretto.

CD 1: Act I, Scenes 1-3
CD 2: Act II, Scenes 1-2 & Act III, Scenes 1-2

============================================

Tchaikovsky is one of the very few exceptions of composers who have been successful in two fundamentally different worlds, instrumental music and opera. Admittedly, he is only a partial exception: his operas have never been half as popular as his symphonies.

But the number of composers who have straddled these worlds is fantastically small. Mozart is just about the only truly great composer who is truly at home in both of them. Richard Strauss may be said to be another, if on a much lower level in every way. Verdi, Wagner and Puccini composed very little outside their operas, and even the most famous of these works, Verdi’s Requiem by far, has never been half as popular as, say, La Traviata or Tosca. Mussorgsky, Bizet, Gounod and Rossini were somewhat more prolific instrumentally, but, all the same, they are best remembered for Boris Godunov, Carmen and Faust. Beethoven composed only one opera, and though it is well within the standard repertoire today, it is far less famous than his symphonies, concertos and sonatas. Brahms didn’t compose operas at all; the accidental attempts of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Schumann are profoundly forgotten. Composers like Weber, Berlioz, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev are in the same position as Tchaikovsky. One or two of their operas are reasonably well-known, but it’s their overtures, symphonies, piano music or ballets on which their reputation rests.

Eugene Onegin is by common consent Tchaikovsky’s finest opera. Certainly, it is by far his most popular. Some excerpts have even made it to the concert hall, most notably the Waltz (II.1.) and the Polonaise (III.1.). Lensky’s fatalistic aria before the Duel Scene (II.2.) and Prince Gremin’s reflections on love’s ability to conquer all ages (III.1.) are also popular with tenors and basses, respectively, who can manage the tricky singing in Russian. Even Tatyana’s famous Letter Scene (I.2.) is occasionally heard separately, though it does lose much of its dramatic impact out of the context. The opera has no doubt won some popularity thanks to Antony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) in which a beautiful staging of the Duel Scene appears for a few minutes and subtly contributes to the overall theme of the film. This very recording was used as a soundtrack.

It is a fine recording, yet in a number of ways slightly unsatisfactory. There is always one “but”. Anna Tomowa-Sintow is in splendid voice, but her pronunciation in Russian leaves something to be desired; she is much more convincing in the German and Italian repertoire. The voice of Nicolai Gedda still sounds beautiful and his exquisite phrasing cannot be beaten; but at the age of 62 he is past his prime and the tone is somewhat strained at the top compared to the brilliant exuberance in his youth. It is no accident that four years later, in the studio recording conducted by Charles Mackerras, he was relegated to the ungrateful part of Triquet (whose dramatic significance, as that of Filipyevna, I still fail to perceive). Nicola Ghiuselev’s velvety bass is in fine shape, but his great aria is surprisingly clumsy, especially considering his fame in the Russian repertoire. Yuri Mazurok is the only major member of the cast who doesn’t seem to have any shortcomings. He is an excellent Onegin vocally as well as dramatically.

Emil Tchakarov was a fine conductor who made a remarkable career before he died at the age of 43 from AIDS. But – again this but! – he is a little tame and timid. Granted that this works well in an intensely intimate opera like Onegin, sometimes I hanker for more drama, more rapture and abandon, but Tchakarov cannot provide this. He is partly let down by the clean but rather flat sound.

I am not going to pretend I find Eugene Onegin even remotely as compelling as Manfred, the Pathétique or Romeo and Juliet. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating opera and a subtle tragedy that grows on you with repeated listening. I still think Madame Larina, Filipyevna and Monsieur Triquet are superfluous and only dilute the story (which isn’t terribly dramatic to begin with), but Onegin, Lensky and, above all, Tatyana are wonderfully alive characters. They inspired Tchaikovsky to create some of his finest music. I guess there are better recordings out there, but this one works perfectly well as an introduction. The lack of libretto is the only real problem. The track-by-track synopsis in the booklet is by no means enough. ( )
  Waldstein | May 30, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (44 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gedda, NicolaiLenskimain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mazurok, YuriOneginmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tomowa-Sintow, AnnaTatianamain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Atlantov, Vladimirsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cherkasov, GennadyConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghiuselev, NicolaGreminsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Milashkina, Tamarasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nesterenko, Yevgenysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestra and Choir of the Bolshoi TheaterOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sofia Festival Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tchakarov, Emilconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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