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<<  -- 3 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


Six years pass, during which Onegin, his pride dented by half-acknowledged guilt, disappears into the embrace of European High Society, which may be either reality or dream. We don't learn, in the opera, what happens to 'widowed' Olga, perhaps because Pushkin thought it wasn't likely to be much. But Tatyana proves, like Tchaikovsky himself, to have steel to be tempered in her temperament, having found a new destiny with the rich, if old, Prince Gremin, a one-time friend of Onegin. Although we learn nothing at first hand about the relationship between the Prince and his young wife, her new life can hardly be a dead loss since Gremin sings the final noble aria of reconciliation. Attending a ball given by the Prince, Onegin, returned from his travels, re-encounters Tatyana, now glamorously garbed in red satin. We aren't surprised when Tatyana agonizedly rejects Onegin's avowal that he had always 'really' loved her since, even if that were true, his patrician pride must have been stronger than his heart's truth. The (presumptively Russian) baritone Vladimarus Prudnikovas sings Gremin's aria with a clean grandeur that may be Tchaikovsky's most durable characteristic. Indeed, this may be the key to much of Tchaikovsky's most representative music, which is balanced between the fairy-tale illusion of ballet and the deceptive reality of sometimes shabby rather than grand 'tragedies', here induced by the all-too-human folly of a dim-witted Lensky, an empty-headed Olga, or whomever. It is to the point that the ballroom scene in Tchaikovsky's most down-to-earth opera introduces a vivid cameo-part for a magician-illusionist appropriately named Monsieur Triquet, here piped in countertenor-like docile duplicity by Mark Curtis. Although the fates of Tatyana and Onegin are not, strictly speaking, tragic, they are painfully true, and truly painful.

Compromise between reality and illusion is, of course, implicit in the two worlds of Russian folk lament and the giddy gaiety of Parisian valses and cotillons, and of Polish mazurkas and polonaises, congenial to genteel society, here brutally transplanted in industrial Leeds. In the dance music the orchestra played, under Richard Farnes, with complementary zest and elegance, revealing how the music's repressed formality may disguise inner distress. In the vocal sections -- especially in Tatyana's arioso -- Tchaikovsky's obsessive echoings of the vocal phrases by solo horn, flute, oboe, clarinet or bassoon, all exquisitely played, project the girl's anguish into the world 'out there': which is also our world, now immune from Onegin's public, yet oddly self-enclosed, hauteur. Nor must one forget the contribution of Opera North Chorus, who sang as needed with Russian rumbustiousness or Parisian precision, as though they were simultaneously and ambiguously in a dour 19th century A minor and in the ancient Aeolian mode -- as, indeed, they occasionally were. This was another Opera North evening that deserves our gratitude; even the programme-book is intelligently compiled and handsomely presented, with pertinent literary quotations and fine illustrations.

Copyright © 12 May 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK




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