Salzburg Festival—2007 (Part 3)
Daniel Barenboim in Salzburg—he was here, there, everywhere….
Director Andrea Breth and stage designer Martin Zehetgruber mounted a very provocative production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The plot, an adaptation of Pushkin, is well known. Tatiana falls for Onegin who spurns her. He then flirts with her sister, Olga, kills the sister’s lover Lenski in a duel and disappears. Onegin returns some years later to see Tatiana rich, married and happy. Although Tatiana is still in love with Onegin, she decides to stay with her husband, Prince Gremin, leaving a heartbroken Onegin.
In contrast to the usual game plan, Breth conceived this primarily as a women’s show. They were in total control. This was evident from the outset when Larina, mother of Tatiana and Olga, was seen shaving the heads of the peasants. They stood meekly and submissively in line just like sheep. The coquettish Olga took Lenski’s death in her stride. There was no doubt that she would rapidly get over her loss. Tatiana is usually portrayed as being shy, bookish and immature but not according to Breth. Despite her rejection by Onegin, she controlled her emotions and retained her wits about her. Indeed Onegin was the emotionally immature and weaker character, as was dramatically displayed in his behavior following his rejection by Tatiana at the opera’s conclusion.
Martin Zehetgruber made good use of the huge stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus by using revolving sets revealing different tableaus including fields of wheat, Tatiana’s bedroom, a forest in winter, a ball room, and a room in Prince Gremin’s palace.
Singing was of a uniformly high quality. Russian soprano, Anna Samuil was an outstanding Tatiana and gave an elegant and intelligent performance. She was particularly effective in the letter scene where her lines were beautifully formed and executed. This dramatic moment in the opera lacked the usual emotional overlay of an immature impetuous girl. Baritone Peter Mattei brought his considerable vocal and acting skills to the role of Onegin. Initially aloof, egocentric and narcissistic, by the opera’s end, he was totally transformed into a pitiful broken character. Veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto not unexpectedly brought the house down with his famous last act aria where he extols his happiness with Tatiana. Joseph Kaiser was a robust and resourceful Lenksi and Ekaterina Gubanova’s Olga was sung in lovely creamy tones. Conductor, Daniel Barenboim, was in total control of the Vienna Philharmonic and gave a memorable performance bringing out the rich sonorities and seductive nature of this score whilst remaining very sympathetic to the singers. The orchestra displayed brilliance of tone and transparency in texture. At the end of the performance, all the orchestra members came on stage to share in the unqualified triumph.
Daniel Barenboim, an indefatigable conductor, pianist and lecturer also brought his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra comprising young Israeli, Moslem and Spanish musicians for a series of concerts and chamber music events. This orchestra was very much in evidence at the year’s festival. These young musicians gave a very solid and enthusiastic rendering of Beethoven’s Leonora Overture no 3, Schoenberg’s Variations for orchestra as well as Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique symphony. Barenboim proved equally adept and charismatic as a great communicator and used his orchestra as an effective tool to explain the nuances of tone, harmony and sound to an enthralled audience. He also proved to be the ideal accompanist and joined Nabil Shehata, the Kuwaiti born principal double bass at the Staatsoper in Berlin in an unforgettable performance of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. The combination of a Moslem string player and Israeli pianist playing a composition from the most solemn day in the Jewish ritual by a Protestant composer was a moment of true reflection of an ideal and perfect world. Maybe music can make inroads and help to bridge nationalistic and religious differences after all!#