What is Nicolas Joel up to? Opéra de Paris's 2010-11 season features some intriguing new productions, repertoire rareties, and new works, but Bastille's first two shows are both Willy Decker revivals from the last century. Twice in just over a week I saw sparse unit sets decorated with a few sticks of furniture, with sweeping 19th century score and narrative shoehorned into a narrow physical and psychological framework. Decker's interiorizing approach restores something of Pushkin's original epistolary format, with Lenski and Onegin's big arias staged as letter scenes. It's an interesting take but detracted from Tatyana's Letter Scene, I thought. Thankfully, fine vocal performances leavened the claustrophobia and gloom, and I encountered a terrific new (to me) conductor.
Vassily Petrenko was the night's real discovery. The 34-year-old Russian was named Classical Brit Male Artist for 2010; since cutting his teeth in St. Petersburg he's been active (very active!) throughout Europe but especially in Britain, where he was named Music Director of the Liverpool Philharmonic in 2006. His conducting reminded me a bit of Valery Gergiev, with his kinetic and fluttery left hand leavening a laser-precise beat. He carressed telling details of the score, conveying a sense of the leisurely pace of country life and letting the orchestra become part of the conversation. Yet he whipped the orchestra into a thrilling frenzy in the confrontation leading to the tragedy.
This was a great night for Joseph Kaiser. The young Canadian tenor made a nice showing last season as Fortunio at the Opera Comique, and I thought that he had found a nice niche. But he's ripened wonderfully in ten months: his physical and especially his vocal presence enlivened Bastille's cavernous auditorium. Kaiser sang with beautiful and exciting tone and embodied the passionate, impulsive young poet with persuasive specificity. He was the driving force behind the thrilling confrontation at the birthday party, pacing his character's emotional arc.
Ludovic Tézier's Onegin was as mellifluous and musical as expected, but he wasn't entirely persuasive as the pretentious young blade (and an ill-fitting costume detracted from his swoonability factor). Olga Guryakova sang lusciously and looked the part of Tatyana to perfection, though her acting was rather one-dimensional (I blame the second-hand revival direction). Alisa Kolosova charmed as Olga, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt duly stole his scene as Triquet, and Gleb Nikolski, once warmed up, melted hearts as Gremin.
All in all, an old-fashioned night at the opera, musically satisfying but feeling a bit tame, a bit dated. A backlash to the edgy Mortier regime? Thank goodness musical values remain strong.