« Alliierten Museum Pictures | Main | Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp »

Eugene Onegin at the Komische Oper

After several coachings and voice lessons with some musicians in Berlin, I was so excited to finally see my first opera here – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Komische Oper. One of the singers in the Freier Chor Velten has a good friend who sings in the chorus at the Komische Oper, and she was able to arrange for me to get a ticket for only 13 Euros. When I got to the opera house to pick up the reserved tickets, I was asked if I wanted to sit in the balcony or the parkett (the main floor). I picked the main floor because I didn’t want to be too far away. Low and behold, when the clerk handed me my 13-Euro ticket, it was in the first row!!! When I got inside the theater, I learned that it was not only the first row, but also dead center! I couldn’t believe it. Looking at the price listings, this ticket should have normally sold for over 70 Euros. So, I was ecstatic!

Well, I’m sorry to say that my euphoria didn’t last too long. My first disappointment was that the opera was to be sung in German instead of the original Russian. However, I understand this tradition of using the “language of the people? in European opera houses, so I didn’t let this minor road bump upset me too much. It was the production itself, along with some rather lackluster singing from even the principle players, that caused my overall dissatisfaction with the performance.

From a practical point of view, the stage director’s decision to use a severely raked (slanted) stage created the need to have a slip-proof floor covering. Sadly, they chose what I can only call a “shower mat?-style of covering that caused an inordinate amount of squeaking and extraneous noise when any person took even the smallest step. So, when the choir of roughly fifty singers moved en masse it became more of a comedy than a serious drama.

The late romantic setting was also given a modern interpretation that seemed to be taking place entirely on a plane or maybe a cruise ship. Honestly, I just didn’t understand what the setting was. There were many, many chairs that seemed to be arranged like a plane and that could swivel to four points. At one moment in the show, the whole ensemble, seated in these chairs, seemed to get tossed about in either a storm or some kind of turbulence where they would simultaneously fall/get tossed from one side of the stage to the other and then “climb? back toward the chairs in the middle. Since the story actually takes place in the countryside during fine weather, I’m at a total loss for what the heck all that was supposed to be.

Another complaint, purely aesthetic, is that certain famous elements of the opera – the waltz, the polonaise, and Tatiana’s “Letter Scene? – could not be performed as the composer intended because of the set design. The dances, for lack of space on the stage (because of the 50+ swivel chairs), were changed into a sort of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey games with people in blindfolds chasing each other about. Tatiana’s powerful “Letter Scene? in which she, alone in her room, reveals her deep love for Onegin in a letter, was thoroughly spoiled by the fact that the chorus remained on stage (sitting in those darn chairs) and then left for no discernable reason in the middle of the aria (squeak, squeak, squeak)…and then came back again for, dare I write it, no discernable reason!

Several of the audience members were complaining about the production during intermission and, in fact, many did not return to see the second half. This created an even more ridiculous situation in which the performers on the stage outnumbered the people in the audience. Very sad, especially for someone like me who hopes to be one of those performers in the near future! I would not want to sing in such a production, and I would be embarrassed to sing at a world-class opera house to a crowd of less than fifty people on a Saturday evening.

I still have another opera to see at the Komische Oper next Saturday. It is Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier which I have never seen. I sincerely hope it will be a nice production and that the singing will be very good. We’ll see, though. Maybe it’s a case of “you get what you pay for,? but I would be furious if I had paid $150 for the Eugene Onegin ticket. Wie sagt man “refund? auf Deutsch?