Tchaikovsky’s great opera (1879), with a libretto largely lifted from Pushkin’s epic poem, is a snow-filled but overheated saga of frustrated amour. TVC has never seen a live performance and has no plans to visit Russia in order to do so. The 1988 Decca DVD, directed by Peter Weigl with Sir Georg Solti conducting the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, reveals one of the enduring problems with opera as film as opposed to the Opera House. It sounds good and it looks good but, alas, not at the same time.
The film treatment, while a little static, soars above the confines of the stage, especially in, say, the dueling scene and the prior close up of Lensky, contemplating his fate. However, the film has Bernd Weikl as a distinctive, appropriately cold Yevgeny Onegin (mouthing to the strong singing of Michal Docolomanský), Teresa Kubiak drafting and re-drafting Tatyana’s sweet musical letter per Magdalena Vásáryová, and Stuart Burrows pretending to emote in Russian, care of Emil Horváth. The syncopation and miming would, regretfully, shame Milli Vanilli, the actors’ mouths wobbling like Sue Ellen’s in Dallas, only with Sue Ellen mouthing two lines behind herself, or miming to JR.Therefore, the dynamism of film is stultified and it all dissolves to an image of sugary dirndl, redolent of Julie Andrews barreling down a dead hill.
Still, the music endures and is up there with the best of the operatic canon. So come on girls and boys! Surely there are Russian emigres who’ve fled Putin’s Wonderland of Blood and Shadows who can take Pyotr Ilyich’s show on the road?