Tchaikosvky’s “Eugene Onegin” is considered one of the composer’s greatest operas as it features some of his richest melodies and is based on Pushkin’s famous poem. The work has been performed extensively around the world and this year it makes a return to the Metropolitan Opera. While the title role has been a vehicle for many renowned baritones it is often the leading lady getting all the spotlight.
In celebration of its premiere on March 29, 1879, OperaWire takes a look at some of the famous Tatianas that have graced the stage of the Met.
The soprano performed the work for its U.S. stage premiere and Metropolitan Opera premiere in 1920 in Italian. While Muzio was recognized at the time for her work, this performance was described as “abysmally entertaining.” She performed the work that season five times and returned for three more performances in 1921.
Rudolph Bing revived the work in 1957 but this time it was sung in English. The great diva Lucine Amara performed the opera alongside George London and Richard Tucker and while the cast looked to be a surefire success, critics thought this was a big disaster. Her performance was described as “a lady with a lovely voice who is not quite the type, physically, to have been pining away.” That season the opera was performed a whopping 17 times.
The next Tatiana the Met would get was Price, a soprano known for her work in Verdi operas. The performances that season in 1964 were performed in English and it also starred William Dooley in his Met debut and Jess Thomas. While she was acclaimed for her dramatic skills, critics found her voice unfit for the role. “She excels in broad strokes of musical logic, which do not yet suffice for a certain letter of intention addressed to Onegin. There was greater weight in her closing address of renunciation, but the whole case could have been better prepared.” That run would get eight performances.
Thirteen years after Price, Zylis-Gara would showcase the work in its first Russian performances. She was joined by Sherrill Milnes and Nicolai Gedda and it would be the company’s first major success with the Tchaikovsky drama. Conducted by James Levine, Zylis-Gara was hailed for her “colorations and her lyric singing.” That season the opera would get seven performances. Zylis-Gara would return to the opera in 1979 in a run that would last eighteen performances, of which she would only perform three.
A year later the opera would star Kasrashvili in her Met debut alongside Neil Shicoff. Seven performances would be given including a radio broadcast. The soprano would return in 1989 for two performances with Jerry Hadley, who was making his Met debut.
The reknowned soprano performed the work in the 1979-1980 season for a total of seven times. She sang alongside Yuri Mazurok and Nicolai Gedda and for her run she received some good mentions. The New York Times stated, “Not many Tatyanas sing the part more securely and not many look as plausibly forlorn and pretty in the first two acts.” There were however, some trepdiations of her performance but for the most part she was a huge success in it.
The 1979-80 season also featured Kubiak in 10 performances. She had made her debut in 1973 and was known for her “Tosca” and work on “Il Trittico.”
The great Romanian soprano was known for her work as Tatiana and in 1984 she performed the opera five times with Leo Nucci in the leading role and Vladimir Popov as Lensky in his Met debut. Critics noted “Miss Cotrubas did her Letter Scene quite melodramatically at some points, actually going up to the footlights at several points to line out her music.” They also noted that she was wonderful as a young girl in the first two acts.
Griffel would take over for Cortrubas in the second run of performances that season in 1985. She performed the role five times at the Met.
One of the most vibrant voices at the Met during the 80s and 90s, Vaness took over the run in 1985 and performed Tatiana a total of three times with the company.
In 1989 Freni made her Met role debut in one of her most famous portrayals to date. The Italian soprano would perform Tatiana six times that season before returing to it in 1992 with Dwyane Croft as her leading man and Francisco Araiza as Lensky. Seji Ozawa would also be her conductor in the 1992 performances. Sergei Leiferkus and John Alexander also joined her in that run. During that series critics noted that Freni was “still capable of convincingly portraying a late-adolescent girl, and singing just gorgeously.”
Kazarnovskaya would take over for Freni in 1992 for three performances in her Met debut.
In 1997, the Met introduced a new production by Robert Carsen that until today is hailed as one of the most successful Met productions. The leading lady was Galina Gorchakova, a soprano who at the time was among the most famous interpreters of the role. Critics stated, “Ms. Gorchakova’s round, warm, distinct soprano was allowed to peek through the obscurity from time to time.” That run was notable for having Carsen and Sir Antonio Pappano in their Met debuts. It also included Neil Shicoff as Lensky and Russian baritone Vladimir Chernov. The opera would be performed nine times that season.
In 2001 Kringelborn revived the Carsen production with Thomas Hampson in the title role and Marcello Giordani as Lensky. She would perform eight times out of the nine scheduled performances.
Evseeva performed the role of Tatiana once in 2001 filling in for Kringelborn.
In 2007 the opera would be revived in one of the most critically acclaimed runs at the Met. Fleming was joined by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Ramon Vargas under the direction of Valery Gergiev. The performances were included in the Met’s Live in HD series and would later be released on DVD by Decca. Of the final scene critics noted “The final scene found Fleming and Hvorostovsky splendidly matched, as if inspiring one another to enact a tense and finally desperate confrontation, as the two characters give every sign of fighting for their emotional lives.”
After a huge success in 2007 the Met revived work in 2009 with Karita Mattila and Thomas Hampson in the leading roles. Piotr Beczala was also doing his first Lensky with the company. The run which received seven performances. But as much as Hampson was well known for his role, it was Mattila who stole the show and critics raved “in her luminously sung performance, she uncannily reveals the turmoil of a young woman who courageously, however recklessly, acts on her feelings.”
Netrebko opened the season in 2013 in a new production by Deborah Warner and it marked her second outing the role of Tatiana. She was joined by Mariusz Kwiecien and Beczala and while the production did not receive the best reception Netrebko was hailed for her protrayal as Tatiana. Critics said, “In the Letter Scene she went from hushed expressions of insecurity and longing to full-throated bursts of desire and soaring lyricism.” The run was filmed in HD and was later released on DVD for Deutsche Grammophon. The soprano returns to the role this season with Kwieicien and will be filmed in HD with Peter Mattei.
The last Tatiana the Met had was the Russian soprano Poplavskaya, who portrayed the tortured Tatiana alongside Mattei and Rolando Villazón. Of her performance it was noted that “The soprano delivered a tremendous rendition of the role which counterpointed Mattei’s performance powerfully. “