Soprano Mattila shines in Met's "Eugene Onegin"
Associated Press
2009-02-01 12:11 AM
This is the season for Finnish soprano Karita Mattila to suffer rejection at the hands of baritones.

In the fall, as Salome, she lusted after John the Baptist but had to settle for kissing his severed head. On Friday night, she returned to the Metropolitan Opera to portray a very different impetuous young woman _ Tatiana, who professes her love for the title character in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," only to be met with an icy lecture on propriety.

By now, Met audiences are used to savoring Mattila's vocal luster and dramatic intensity bringing to life her high-strung heroines. Her Tatiana is a treasurable creation, full of nervous energy as she pours out her adolescent longing for Onegin in the famous "Letter Scene," and then, in the opera's shattering conclusion, elegant yet vulnerable as the older, married woman who forces herself to reject Onegin's belated advances. Mattila's high notes may not have quite the fullness of youth, and her middle register occasionally fades out, but this is a richly sung performance nonetheless.

The role of the suave, self-centered Onegin has been something of a specialty for American baritone Thomas Hampson, and he sang it here to acclaim in 2001-02. He still looks and acts the part impressively, but on Friday night he seemed vocally out of sorts. There were patches of hoarseness, some wandering intonation, and he skipped the high note that ends his Act 1 aria, taking it down an octave.

Strong support came from the young Polish tenor Piotr Beczala as Lenski, the ill-fated poet. He has a robust and appealing sound and made his character's fit of jealousy in Act 2 unusually persuasive. His mournful aria just before dying in a duel with Onegin brought a deserved ovation from the near-capacity audience. Beczala, heard earlier this season in "Lucia di Lammermoor" and previously in "Rigoletto," is fast becoming one of the Met's premier tenors in lyric roles.

Russian bass Sergei Aleksashkin acquitted himself well in the plum cameo assignment of Prince Gremin. The nobleman who marries Tatiana doesn't appear until the evening is nearly over, sings one gorgeous aria, and then is done. He sang it extremely well, too, with sensitive phrasing and impressive low notes. Also effective were three mezzo sopranos in supporting roles: Ekaterina Semenchuk as Tatiana's sister, Olga; Wendy White as their mother, and Jane Shaulis as Tatiana's nurse.

Robert Carsen's 1997 minimalist production, with its piles of autumn leaves in the opening scenes, evocative lighting that constantly shifts colors, and furniture limited almost entirely to chairs, is wearing well. Jiri Belohlavek conducted the orchestra with great feeling for the lyric beauty of the score.


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