Tchaikowsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Opera / Oxford / Theatre

Tchaikowsky’s Eugene Onegin.

Julia Gasper reviews

Tchaikowsky’s Eugene Onegin.

How fortunate we are in Oxford to be visited by the Welsh National Opera with its exciting series of new productions to cheer us up in the dreary days of November. None could be more welcome than Eugene Onegin, based on Pushkin’s tale of unrequited love and twists of fate in Tsarist Russia.

As the heroine Tatiana, Natalya Romaniw (who was despite her Ukrainian name and descent, born in Swansea) succeeded in projecting a gauche and innocent girl who is first gripped by an uncontrollable passion, and then suffers a humiliating and crushing rejection. Her pure soprano voice and eloquent gestures rendered her sympathetic from the start, and in the nocturnal scene where she meditates on writing her highly improper and transgressive letter to Onegin, she communicated the feverish ardour of youth.

Nicholas Lester gave us a haughty and blasé Onegin, dressed in black throughout, seemingly representing as well as bringing, doom. His fine, powerful and commanding voice and figure dominated every scene in which he appeared. Beside him, the romantic and idealistic Lensky (Jason Bridges) appeared naïve and provincial, though of course far more likeable. Claudia Huckle as Olga is vivacious and charming, though the costume department got it wrong by making her appear to be younger than Tatyana in the opening scene. She needs to have a longer skirt than her little sister, and her hair done up to show that she is “out” i.e. of marriageable age. Even on a remote country estate such as the Larins’, such conventions were absolute and all social behaviour relied on them.

The duel scene, set in the snow like Pushkin’s own tragic fatal duel (although the weather in Act I had appeared perfectly clement) was tense and gripping. Lensky’s mournful aria, full of foreboding, was tenderly performed and well appreciated by the audience. Only the comical touches of Onegin’s second remained mysterious – were we meant to think that this was a character we knew, in disguise?

In the final scenes, Tatiana was suitably transformed, and Miklos Sebestyen drew applause in the essential, though far simpler, role of Prince Gremin, her older husband who appreciates her so sincerely. The grand polonaise was played and performed with verve and style.

The conductor, Ainars Rubikis, and the WNO orchestra, were clearly all revelling in this score, with its Russian song-tunes and dance-rhythms. It is a masterly feat of musical story-telling, conjuring every mood and nuance of feeling, from the innocent yearnings of the young girl growing up in a not-so-idyllic countryside, to the intense fury and jealousy that drives Lensky to challenge Onegin to a fatal duel, and then to the bitter regret and chagrin of the older Onegin as he comes to realize too late what he has lost and how badly he has blundered. There were a few moments when the players lost perfect synchronization in this production, but it was, on the whole, a highly enjoyable evening and we look forward keenly to the remaining WNO performances later in the week.

Julia Gasper.

Nov 29th 2017.

Composer: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Librettist: Konstantin Shilovsky
Director: James MacDonald
Designer: Tobias Hoheisel
Lighting Designer: Andreas Grüter
Choreographer: Stuart Hopps
Production originated: 2004
Last performed: 2008
Chorus: 10 sopranos, 10 mezzos, 10 tenors, 10 basses
Actors / dancers: None
On stage musicians: None
Special effects: Gunfire, Votive candle, Smoke
Edition: Schauer & May (vocal), Kalmus (orchestral)
No of containers: 3


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