Onéguine danced by the Paris Opera Ballet. Palais Garnier, February 13, 2018
As I walked out into the Paris rain, I realized I had started humming George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from 1968. Blame it on Mathieu Ganio’s unusual Onegin. This one, tall/dark/handsome for sure, but melancholy and fundamentally decent rather than arrogant and manipulative, gave a refreshing and redemptive twist to the anti-hero we usually expect.
If at first he seemed a bit tight in his arabesques in the “ah is me” solo, undecided as whether to take the center of his weight forward or back, one could argue Ganio was already using his body to express how this man was complety bottled up. Ganio’s Onegin is not a bored snob, he is a young man struggling against a severe case of depression. This surprisingly gentle interpretation of Onegin increasingly grew on me.
This guy seemed to be trying to figure out
“why-ay-ay-ay nobody told you, How to unfold your love.”
The “you” he’s talking to is…himself. Or, to be more French about it, he also made me think of Jean-Louis Barrault’s persona in the film “Les Enfants du Paradis:” equally gloomy, frustrated, passive. A man capable of losing his temper, but who will imagine for just too long that he is incapable of getting happiness out of love.
Ludmila Pagliero’s equally diffident and inward Tatiana gave truth to the Russian superstition that one day you will look into a mirror and see your soulmate, for better or for worse. The first act dream scene turned out to be – given the scary lifts and landings — a tad tamer than can happen. Yet it made perfect dramatic sense. A young girl’s dream of romance is always of a considerate lover. Someone who sweeps her off her feet, not someone who flings her down as if she were a mop. To return to George Harrison, I prefer his elegy’s “I look at you and see love there that is sleeping” to his line “I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping.” [I know. Pop lyrics can be inane.] There will always be time for reality later on in life.
This was one of the rare times, since the era of Susanne Hanke and Egon Madsen, that Olga and Lensky’s story clearly warranted equal, not second, billing. Myriam Ould-Braham and Mathias Heymann stretched/learned/arched to and from and towards each other as if they had magnets implanted in their respective limbs. Their free, utterly weightless, partnering made for a powerful example of what Tatiana and Onegin were unable to experience. So when Onegin danced with Olga to Lensky’s annoyance, Ould-Braham’s focus, her tilts of the head, her sheer and guileless joy in dancing… were all directed to her Heymann. She could not doubt for a second that Lensky wasn’t in on the joke. For a moment, I forgot where the plot is destined to go, as this duo’s performance had already made me think they had been very happily married for months.
All the sadder then, when it came to the duel. In his farewell solo, Heymann’s Lensky took those backbends of despair and, by acceleration or deceleration, made them each speak Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. The normal rustles of the opera house went totally silent as we all held our breath.
In the meantime, during Act 2, Scene 1, at Tatiana’s birthday party, for once you probably noticed a broad shouldered and elegant man in uniform. You often don’t pay attention to this guest, unless the dancer who will marry Tatiana during the coming intermission [it lasts three years] puts something extra into it. From the start, Florian Magnenet gave his Prince Gremin a kind of gravitas and slowed down military parade strut. In Act 3, then, as he lovingly folds and unfolds Pagliero in his arms, you can’t help thinking Tatiana is one lucky girl. Now that I think about it, Eric Clapton found the right words for Gremin and for Magnenet way back in 1977:
We go to a party and everyone turns to see/This beautiful lady that’s walking around with me/And then she asks me, « Do you feel all right? »/And I say, « Yes, I feel wonderful tonight. »
Later, as Magnenet’s Gremin so warmly takes his leave in Tatiana’s boudoir – you get the feeling she has told him eeeverything – you start to feel as if you are peeking into the room along with Pushkin’s narrator. You feel as sorry and helpless as both Onegin and Tatiana while this poem hurtles towards its inevitable end. Magnenet’s attractive persona remains powerfully on everyone’s mind, and no one can shake the image of how Tatiana had trustingly nestled into his bosom. You, like she, remember too much.
There’s that one long and repeated phrase set to agonized music where Onegin crawls on his knees behind the swooning Tatiana, desperate to pull her back into his orbit. Usually, your focus is on the crawl, on him. Here you focus on the vehemence with which she rips her hands –so tightly balled into fists – from Onegin’s grasp, and on the way she seems to lose her balance – rather than surrender — during their calvary. These two are indeed soul-mates, in that they are doomed to never find the cure for their sorrow and regrets. Neither’s heart shall ever be healed.
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