Opera on Screen: Eugene Onegin

opera on screen, film society

Tchaikovsky is best known for his symphonic scores and ballets such as the Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Yet his operas also occupy a place of honor in his oeuvre, and two of them, “Eugene Onegin” and “The Queen of Spades,” both based on novels by Pushkin, are among his very finest works. The plot of “Onegin” is quickly told: on a Russian country estate, awkward, inexperienced young Tatyana is seized by a sudden passion for the handsome, blasé new neighbor Eugene Onegin. She writes him a love letter, but he makes it clear to her that he is not interested. Later, Tatyana‘s sister flirts with Onegin, her fiancé challenges him to a duel and is killed by Onegin. Years later, Onegin returns, finds that Tatyana has married an aged prince, and tries to win her back but fails...

Tchaikovsky called his opera a sequence of “lyric scenes.” Its structure prefigures narrative techniques that later came into use in cinema: abrupt cuts and chronological leaps, intimate close-ups, atmospheric interjections... Bearing this practically cinematic structure in mind, director Andrea Breth has produced an intimate chamber play that mines the depths of veracity, precision and charisma of her singer-actors. The stage suggests both the concrete location of the action as well as the psychological condition of those driving the action forward. Breth‘s “phenomenal ‘Onegin’ interpretation” (F.A.Z.) even allows the integration of silent secondary episodes and miniature dramas.

The title role is a tour de force for any baritone, who must walk a tightrope between cynical, insufferable snob and sympathetic, broken-hearted lover. Peter Mattei, who “has acquired a fabulous vocal profile and is a gifted actor blessed with debonair self-confidence”, carries this off superbly. (Peter Hagmann, Neue Zürcher Zeitung) But the true hero of the opera is Tatyana, a multi-layered, conflicted, driven, doubt-ridden heroine. As portrayed by the dazzling Russian soprano Anna Samuil, this Tatyana “is ready to start a revolution.” (Julia Spinola, F.A.Z.) Since her 2003 debut in the West, and her appearance as Musetta (La Bohème) at the Met alongside Anna Netrebko, Anna Samuil – a protegée of Daniel Barenboim – has been acclaimed as a vibrant new voice on the operatic stage. Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic accompany these “scenes of a marriage that could have been” with beguilingly dark sonorities that allow for brilliant flashes of light from the winds and waves of passionate lyricism in the third act.

Daniel Barenboim, Conductor
Andrea Breth, Director
Martin Zehetgruber, Sets
Silke Willrett & Marc Weeger, Costumes
Friedrich Rom, Lights
Wiener Philharmoniker, Orchestra


Peter Mattei - Eugene Onegin
Anna Samuil - Tatyana
Ekaterina Gubanova - Olga
Joseph Kaiser - Lensky
Ferruccio Furlanetto - Prince Gremin
Reneé Morloc - Larina, Lady of the Manor