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Seduction and Tragedy
Courtesy of Sharmill Films
When it comes to experience and knowledge of opera, I am definitely lacking. So I am perhaps an unlikely reviewer of the Classic Onegin. On the other hand, maybe I am the prefect candidate because if I understand and enjoy it, it could open the floodgates to others who have not engaged in this notable, cultural field of the Arts. I was a member of the MTC once and I do frequent film, although I admit my most recent genres include movies like the Smurfs and Twilight.
This Russian romantic tragedy opera was captured live in HD (which is almost like 3D) and produced by esteemed British director Deborah Warner with her long term professional partner director Fiona Shaw. The cast and orchestra are well known and respected artists.
It's important to know that Eugene Onegin was performed in Russian with English subtitles. Also, the film is punctuated by interviews with actors and crew. Although some of this was very interesting, it made the story a bit disjointed for me.
I must say the story is a bit predictable. To put it another way, it's a timeless story. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky based this opera on a verse novel by Pushkin – no small task. It was first performed in Moscow in 1879 and since been produced a number of times. The themes of emotional honesty, trust, regret, remorse over bad decisions and the long-term consequences of treating others poorly are sure to strike a chord with nearly everyone.
To give you a sense of the storyline, and to make opera accessible to all, I have imagined what it might look like if it were produced as a modern film. I think it would go something like this:
A young, hormonal virgin (Tatiana) who is a bit dipsy declares her misguided hots for an older, worldly and selfish man (Eugene Onegin). He has no intension of settling down to a boring domestic life and he tells her so. He's insecure and probably on the spectrum because he has no idea how to deliver this rejection. In his arrogance, he cruelly he leaves her with nothing but a kiss.
Tatiana needs to accept that domesticity is her future but she yearns for years about the impossible. Her reaction is a bit overdramatic, worse than a teenager arching up about doing their homework.
In his boredom and dissatisfaction with life Onegin flirts with his best friend's girl (as you do when you're good looking young stud). To make it more painful she is also Tatiana's sister.
Because of the shame, over inflated machoistic ego and the fact that too much weed has affected his brain, the more honorable of the mates plan to fight to the death. It would have been simpler if the communication was more open but that never seems to occur to these hot-blooded young men.
In my modern version the fight would be with knives in an alley (not a duel with routines and tradition) and there would be a bunch of tattooed on-lookers sculling from a Jack bottle and the dialogue would be peppered with the f word.
Clearly they have made the wrong decision but losing face is worse than a bad case of clap. The route for misguided youth is inevitable and Eugene Onegin lives on without his friend, Tatiana or the sister.
Before the cops can get him he puts himself into exile, most likely an outrageous rehab and hires the most expensive lawyers to get him off the rap but we all know he's going to have a hard time moving on because of his guilt and bottomless pit of self-pity. However, after his release he goes straight to a Rave party and coincidentally who should be the dancing queen of the night and the handbag of a well-known, love-struck millionaire old enough to be her father? You guessed it Tatiana.
Remember Onegin is a bit of a snob and was not too keen on her because she was bought up in the Bronx but now she is a megastar it's a different story. Self-delusion and the expensive Gucci and Kim Kardasian gear blind him.
The tide has turned though; the in-crowd now rejects him. Things aren't going well for Onegin. He's unemployed, has no chick, he is haunted by ghosts and drinks too much. He is a candidate for depression for sure.
Tatiana may not have intended it by she is now confident and hardened and this rubs his mistakes in his face. But she is in a bad space too. She is an empty soul in a loveless relationship. But she is now an ambassador for honor instead of a young floosy and has to teach him a lesson even if it means cutting off her own nose to spite her face.
Despite the neglect and abuse of the past, like Rihanna, her memory is short. She is still attracted to him in all the wrong places. He begs for forgiveness and exaggerates his love for her. A bit too late in my books!
So there you have it. A happy ending. Honor wins over red-hot passion, which is hardly likely in the twenty first century. She seals their fate with one last ironic kiss. They are both doomed.
To that's my interpretation intended to help you get the gist of it. But I do not want to be flippant about this story of historical importance and music that is classically enduring so I am glad I ran into some patriots who are studying opera. They said it was nothing short of phenomenal.
The students complemented the acting and especially Anna Netrebko (Tatiana) who plays the teen and older mature women equally well. They thought that because the principals were particularly sentimental about the novel that this would have informed how they portrayed and built the characters. They also commented on the filming, saying they thought the camera gave a better perspective than in a live show, without dictating perspective… fair comment.
I asked a few others in the audience, who incidentally had mostly seen at least 5 decades of life. A first timer said that she thought it was a bit like Romeo and Juliet and nearly had to wake her friend in the first act but after that it picked up speed. Despite expecting to loathe it because she is no big fan of opera or classical music, she enjoyed it.
I liked the costumes and minimalist sets seemed appropriate to the times. The music and production successfully showed stark contrast between rural and the grandeur of Russian life.
I got a laugh or two that I didn't expect (perhaps where I shouldn't have?) and was struck by how engaging the moral of the tale was. I was wondering if the 'life's harsh lessons' were universally appropriate and enduring.
So will you enjoy this production?
Do you object to subtitles?
Are you able to stay awake for nearly 4 hours?
Are you into musicals?
Do you like to learn a bit of history?
If you answered no, yes, yes, yes, this could be the film for you. Take a picnic and enjoy. But don't just rely on my naďve recommendation. More knowledgeable reviewers and audience members are commending this opera on film. Apparently, it doesn't get much better than this one.