Tchaikovsky took a very leisurely route on his way to the heart of Pushkin's dramatic poem "Eugen Onegin." The Metropolitan Opera's production, heard Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center, lets the opening scenes unfold unhurriedly. To try to hurry things up would only mar the composer's creation of a peaceful, pastoral scene on a comfortable Russian estate.
However, once Tchaikovsky reached the scene of Tatyana's writing to Onegin, a scene over which the composer said he wept while setting it down, he moved onto one of the high planes of his entire career. The Metropolitan is fortunate in having as its conductor Emil Tchakarov, who fully grasped the changing moods of the music drama and elicited elegant and stylish playing from the top-flight orchestra.
There is good fortunes also in Teresa Kubiak's singing of the young heroine, Pushkin's impulsive, romantic teen-ager. The Letter Scene is an extended episode for which Kubiak found just the right touches. Her voice is beautifully controlled, and shefilled the scene with lovely sound as well as feeling. Her gifts as an actress also made her believable under Onegin's pitiless rejection of her love -- she sat motionless, and in so doing revealed the depths of her grief and shame.
Tchaikovsky for a time wondered whether he would ever find a "cold dandy," full of sophistication but heartless. Micheal Devlin, tall and lean, impeccably correct toward Tatyana, and utterly unbending comes very close to the composer's ideal Onegin. His final emotional collapse when, at last, she rejects him, was powerful because of the contrast.
His voice, too, was held to a kind of icy aloofness, a fine piece of vocal characterization, clearly emphasized in his Russian enunciation.
As for Tchaikovsky's hope for a Lenski with "thick, wavy hair and the impetuous and eccentric impulses of a young poet," there was Nicolai Gedda! What an artist -- in every movement, every gesture, and above all, in the projection of Lenski through flawless enunciation and singing that is in a class all its own. No wonder the house went wild after his "Kuda, kuda," just before the fatal duel. His art transforms any stage on which he appears, and when he appears as Lenski, he has no rival.
Late in the evening, when Prince Gremin is finally permitted an appearance. Paul Plishka won for himself deserved ovation for the way he combined nobility with vitality in his single aria.
Surroundings these especially qualified artists, the Met drew on strength in casting Batyah Godfrey as a finesounding nurse. As Triquet, Andrea Velis provided a moment of perfection. Isola Jones, somewhat subdued in her initial scene as Tatyana's sister, Olga, made the flirtation scene a pleasure both in action and singing. Ariel Bybee was a bit stiff as the girls' mother, and her voice becomes rather strident at the top.
As it has on the previous night, in the completely different demands of "Otello," the chorus handled Tchalkovsky's masterful writing with admirable style and gorgeous tone.
Memories of the Bolshol's production of this same opera in the same theater make it hard to say much in praise of the looks of the Met's "Onegin." The sets lack a true atmosphere in the rural scences, in which, incidentally, Tatyana greeted the sun through a window though there was no sunlight outdoors. And the Gremin palace is a poor thing compared to Moscow's. So, alas, was the dancing, but it is not too late to say how handsomely the ballet handled its assignment in Monday's "L'Elisir d' Amore."