Let me tell you about my evening. Last night's evening. We went to the encore streaming performance of Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera. This year I plan to see all ten operas they stream. It's always a Saturday matinee performance that is usually reshown the following Wednesday. I like matinee concerts and shows, personally. I can't quite say why, but I tend to get more out of them.
It had a wonderful cast, and, I think, was better than the opening night reviews it received, either because one or two little issues were worked out or because I am a cheap opera date and tend to overlook some of the details a reviewer notices. I do agree on one flaw, which I'll mention later. But first, getting into the theater to watch was a bit strange.
Side note: I was taught to spell it "theater" for movies and "theatre" for live performances. And of course, we were at a movie theater.
I enjoy going to Fathom Event showings at the movies. Last year they showed a few Hitchcock films in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies. There's nothing like that scheduled for this year, but I might hit up a performance or two by the Royal Opera Company Ballet, as well as the Met operas.
Eugene Onegin opened the Met season, and I was very happy to see it, because I'd read the Pushkin novel (which is written entirely in verse,) and I'd heard some of the music by Tschaikovsky, but was unfamiliar with it as a performance. And it's so easy for me to love an opera singer (see yesterday's post; you can fairly easily imagine which category they probably land in…) So I put on eye makeup, high heels and a necklace for the event, because so many experiences are more enjoyable when you put a little effort into your appearance for them. We arrived at the theater only about ten minutes early, but no one is there on a Wednesday in October, so I slid my card in the ticket machine and we were in.
I almost never get snacks at a movie theater, except the ones in town which sell nice teas and cinnamon almonds, things like that, but I was so hungry, I thought I'd treat myself to a hot dog. I figured I could eat it before the music began. A long time ago, people regarded going to the opera or a play like going on a picnic, but I want to hear the music without listening to myself chew or other people rustle packages of Sour Patch Kids. First, though, the sweet but honestly somewhat dull-minded young man at the snack counter just could not figure out how to charge me for a hot dog and drink combo. He didn't tell anyone I wanted the hot dog, which had to be made at a different counter, until he and others spent five full minutes determining how to fix what he'd done wrong. I said as carefully as I could, "Please can I just have the hot dog now?" But he couldn't handle thinking about that.
After I finally paid, he called someone over to the Nathan's counter to give me a hot dog. But because they had almost no business, there were no hot dogs waiting. So that young man had to don gloves and put one on a grill for me. It could have been cooking for five minutes while the cash register was sorted out, but instead I stood and waited again, and my companion was annoyed and anxious to get into the theater. I told him to go on while I waited. The hot dog chef seemed alarmed and put off by this, asking, "Did he just walk away? Why did he leave?" I said he wanted to see the opening preparation before the opera began, and the young man kept trying to tell me that he was already too late for this, and would now see ten minutes of previews, so I had plenty of time for my hot dog to cook.
They don't show movie previews at the opera. The preview of future performances is shown at intermission, and we do really enjoy seeing that. Before it begins, though, we see a little of what's going on backstage, and there is an emcee who introduces the opera for us. However, I assumed I'd miss all that and engaged the young man in a discussion of upcoming movies in order to soothe his nerves while I waited. He is very into the Avengers franchise. He turned my hot dog with tongs and talked away.
After awhile, he put on fresh gloves and inserted a thermometer into the end of the hot dog and waited to see if it was up to temperature. I have to say, I did appreciate that, and it was fairly amusing to watch. It was done, so he turned it on the grill a couple times, put it in the bun, and off I went to mustard and ketchup. I had just enough time in the theater to eat it without choking before the overture began. Also, I had soda. As a rule, I don't drink sweetened soda, but I had the dear boy give me Mr. Pibb topped with Cherry Coke, which is about the driest combination you can come up with via the Coca-Cola company. And I drank just enough for enjoyment of the hot dog.
Finally, the music started for me, my companion, and the three other people in attendance. There are usually about fifty people there for the Saturday viewing. One thing I like about Tschaikovsky's opera is that there are several places where music is played and a little action takes place with no singing. But, too, I recommend it and other Russian operas if you think opera is made only of high-pitched arias. There are a couple of arias, but nearly all the singing resides deep in the middle, still full of passion and drama. Eugene Onegin as a novel is set first in Regency England (the figurative 1820s period,) then the Russian countryside, and Pushkin wrote it over an eight-year period, adding experiences and impressions of his own as he traveled and worked in various places. My Pushkin volume contains the Babette Deutsch translation from 1935, but I've read that Nabokov's more literal and less poetic translation is better. Maybe I'll look into it. Strike that. What I want next is to listen to Stephen Fry narrate a 1990 translation of it, instead.
Tschaikovsky's opera is set much later in the century and takes place wholly in Russia. It focuses more on the female lead, as well. It's a gripping and romantic adaptation.
I love a good screen or play adaptation of a story. I'm always impressed when a writer works out just how to condense the story into a more compact telling, or just which part of the story to focus on. But last night I learned that Pushkin originally began writing material which would show what happened between the two biggest moments, later destroying it because he thought the government would object. It wouldn't fit into the opera very well, yet I think it would add to our understanding of Onegin's state of mind in the final act.
Piotr Beczala played Onegin's doomed friend Lenski, and I enjoyed him shamelessly. He was lots of fun in last year's Rigoletto, but I liked seeing/hearing him in this sensitive earnest role even better. Anna Netrebko was Tatiana, and she is really wonderful. She made the role for me, because I haven't ever felt much affection for the character. If there was any real negative note for me in the production, it's that her love letter scene takes place in the same outdoor room where the action begins. I think, and reviewers insist, that this demanded a scene change to a more intimate setting. But she handled the scope of it beautifully. I do not agree with those who felt the final scene should have taken place in a different kind of space. I think the outdoor palace setting was just right.
Mariusz Kwiecien was Eugene Onegin. It's a role he's well-known for, but he said in the intermission interview that his portrayal in this production is rather different than usual; more subtle, mainly. His immature arrogance in the first two acts is still apparent in the lyric and in his posture and manner, however. And then in the third, he unleashes his passion and regret over his earlier bad choices. It was nicely affecting.
I want to see more of Piotr Beczala. I amused my companion when I said, "Piotr's not Jonas, but I really dig him." Well! What can I say? He pointed out that these are not…tall men. But honestly, when briefly considering imaginary opera singing lovers, who thinks about how many inches he has over you? That's probably better expressed another way, but I think I'll leave it.
The next performance to watch is Dmitri Shostakovich's The Nose, streaming live on October 26. I'm going to take my 16 year-old son to that, partly because I think he'll appreciate the music, but also, it's an absurd bit of sarcasm, and it runs for only a little over two hours.