“Eugene Onegin,” Starring the Tenor Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón in this Tchaikovsky opera at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo by Ken Howard.

Rolando Villazón in this Tchaikovsky opera at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo by Ken Howard.

After Recovery, a Return Fit for Longing and Loss

‘Eugene Onegin,’ Featuring Rolando Villazón, at the Met

November 27, 2013   |   The New York Times

When the tenor Rolando Villazón last sang at the Metropolitan Opera in 2009, he suffered various mishaps, prompting cancellations attributed to laryngitis and other illnesses. He sought medical advice and was told he would probably never sing again. He was eventually found to have a congenital internal cyst on his left vocal cord; after surgery in 2009, he relearned first how to speak and then how to sing, making a sometimes unsteady foray back into the professional opera world.

It must have been daunting for Mr. Villazón to sing at the Met after an absence of five seasons, portraying Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” which returned to the house with a new cast on Saturday evening. Despite some initial cautiousness in the first act, in which he sometimes sounded underpowered, he sang with confidence and poise during “Kuda, Kuda,” his big aria in the duel scene. His impassioned delivery and heartfelt demeanor rendered his portrayal of the love-struck young poet entirely convincing.

With its stark, ominous branches and eerie lighting, the duel scene is one of the more visually arresting elements of Deborah Warner’s conservative new production, which opened the Met’s season in September.

Over all, this performance felt more focused and dramatically fulfilling than opening night, which had been preceded by considerable drama offstage, with Ms. Warner’s withdrawal as director because of health problems. In addition, there were protests by activists who had urged the Met to dedicate the performance to gay rights in Russia. Fiona Shaw, Ms. Warner’s replacement, returned to direct this new cast.

The soprano Marina Poplavskaya lacks the voluptuous sound of Anna Netrebko, who sang the role of Tatiana on opening night, but offered a more arresting portrayal dramatically. An expressive if sometimes uneven singer, she brought an intense vulnerability to the role of the naïve, bookish and lovelorn sister, rendering her awkwardness and torment in the first act particularly acute. Her movements and gestures always seemed natural, as when she sat on the floor and slowly braided her hair.

The charismatic baritone Peter Mattei sounded lustrous as the title character, vividly conveying Onegin’s transformation from the aloof, coldhearted bachelor who patronizingly rejects Tatiana to the heartbroken man who realizes, too late, that he loves her. Stefan Kocan sang with dignity and powerful low notes as Gremin, Tatiana’s husband. The supple-voiced mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova made a winning house debut as a flirtatious, lively Olga. After a few off-kilter moments in the first act, Alexander Vedernikov made a commendable house debut in the pit, leading a supple and passionate rendition of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score.

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