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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 24, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 21
Once again, Valencia tops the Met
Arts & Entertainment
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Once again, Valencia tops the Met

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

TCHAIKOVSKY: EUGENE ONEGIN ORQUESTRA DE LA COMUNITAT VALENCIANA (Kultur Blu-ray)

After seeing a couple of so-so performances in a row, I begin seriously to feel my passion for opera slipping away. Am I getting too old? Have I seen too many greats in the past to appreciate what's in front of me now? Then along comes a Parsifal with Jonas Kaufmann and I'm jumping up and down with excitement. So, too, am I re-energized by this new Blu-ray of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin from Valencia, Spain. (Yes, yes, I know: this is the second rave review in two weeks for opera productions from Spain. And I also gave a rave to Valencia's Blu-rays of Wagner's Ring. What's going on in that little country across the puddle?!)

This series of 'lyric scenes' (Tchaikovsky didn't call it an 'opera') begins with a usually rather boring ensemble of two older women and the two daughters they care for. Not this time! All four voices are so appealing, and the orchestra is so poetically lovely, that one realizes perhaps for the first time that this is really inspired music of a special quality that only Tchaikovsky could create. Making it especially exciting is the discovery of mezzo-soprano Margarita Nekrasova, singing the small role of the nurse (Filipyevna). Hers is one of the juiciest voices ever to sing an operatic nurse!

All right, so the Valencians have accomplished the minor miracle of making this scene umpteen times better than the Met's recent production (as seen live in HD at the cinema). But there's more, as one begins to realize that the two daughters are not only superb singers but also physically attractive in ways that exactly suit their roles. (I'm almost relieved that the nurse is too corpulent to be part of this beauty contest.)

Next, in come Lensky (tenor Dmitry Korchak) and Onegin (baritone Artur Rucinski), also stunningly appropriate to their roles, both vocally and visually. Korchak is handsome but not very interesting looking, whereas Rucinski has a look and manner that, while not Hollywood gorgeous, immediately fascinates both Tatyana and us. One understands his power over her and her utter loss of control as she pours out her passion in the famous letter scene. To top it off, Rucinski's legato line is sheer perfection, shaping his beautifully masculine sound into lovely phrases that leave no doubt as to their meaning. His Onegin easily rivals the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. (I keep referencing the Met's show because it was, I thought at the time, about as good as it gets for this opera.)

As Tatyana, much as I admire Renée Fleming's studied Met performance, Latvian soprano Krístine Opolaís leaves nothing to be desired. She moves us like no other, despite the almost total absence of props or scenery (in the letter scene, she has a piece of paper but no pen, chair, or desk). Vocally, she has a perfectly lovely sound with no flaws and tons of expression. Lovely to look at, she is always totally in the part and committed to the rather abstract form of expression this production employs.

Yes, this production from Poland is abstract and avant-garde, but it is one that reinforces the music at every turn. There is an enigmatic mime who works with the lead singers; I can't explain his part except to say that it somehow aids the emotion of each moment.

And this is a very emotional performance, thanks in no small part to the conducting of general music director Omer Meir Wellber, a handsome young Israeli of great discipline and talent. The big moments are indeed big, but the all-important inner moments are poetic and true. Wellber is a very busy man these days, and Valencia is lucky to have him.

As usual with recent Kultur discs, the sound and picture of this live performance are state-of-the-art.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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