|Letters in the night: Eugene Onegin Act III. Photo © Staatstheater Mainz|
Pushkin wrote about the sensibilities of a world on the point of vanishing, and Johannes Erath chose a moment of societal transition for his production, as well. The costumes of Noëlle Blancpain suggested the self-conscious modernity and self-conscious nostalgia of the early 1960s, and were also used cleverly in characterization (Olga gets neon colors, Tatiana a pillbox hat, Onegin a white dinner jacket, Lensky a Walther PPK.) Generally, the production seemed much more attentive to the text than to the music. The Nurse, who panics about having forgotten what she once knew, is the anguished guardian of gentle traditions, clinging to a silver samovar in the rapidly rattling train where the first scenes are set. Photographic backdrops suggest the inability of the travelers to linger in the landscapes so lushly described by Pushkin. Even the train compartments gradually separate, pulling people together and apart. Assuming increasing centrality during the letter scene is a photo booth: that curious mechanism meant to enshrine moments trivial almost by definition. While the surrealist touches of the production could be claustrophobic or playful, the society portrayed was essentially (and oppressively) ordered, gradually forcing the conformity of all the principals.