Eugene Onegin, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2012

Having seen Onegin performed on a large stage by major opera companies, with glamorous ball scenes and spacious settings for the Larin country estate, I approached this smaller stage production with some trepidation. But it was a revelation. The simple sets provide the perfect atmosphere, and the performance gives a wonderful insight into Tchaikovsky’s representation of Pushkin’s drama.

All images by Richard Hubert Smith

The solo roles were superbly played. Nicholas Lester exhibited huge stage presence as Onegin, and his portrayal showed an engagingly haughty mixture of regret and determination. As Tatyana, Sarah-Jane Davies sang beautifully, her face, if not her body, showing her emotions; and as Olga, Niamh Kelly performed brilliantly as the rather coquettish younger sister who inspires Lensky’s love and Onegin’s attentions, but lacks the maturity to respond to her lover. As Lensky himself, Jaewoo Kim was poetically moving with his glorious tenor voice, and Andrew Glover as Monsieur Triquet, the other tenor in this cast, sang with a delightful French accent — a nice touch. Just before Tatyana’s letter scene, which Ms. Davies sang beautifully, her late-night conversation with Filippyevna her nurse was entirely convincing. Frances McCafferty gave a gripping rendering of this middle-aged lady’s account of being compelled to marry so early, and her new concern that Tatyana is consumed with being in love.

Filippyevna with Tatyana

Under the baton of music director Michael Rosewell the orchestra played superbly, and he gave fine support to the singers. The production itself is the work of General Director James Conway, whose conception embodies spare yet very effective designs by Joanna Parker, and even one or two subtle video projections. Those branches and the apples at the beginning brought us straight into the atmosphere of the Larin estate, showing how much can be done with very little, and I loved the oblique two-way mirror which served to split the stage into darkness and light, as well as doubling the number of couples in the ball scene.

Onegin and Olga at the ball, Lensky looking on

The dancing was very well choreographed by Bernadette Iglich, with Onegin and Olga whirling through the other dancers in the waltz, and a very agreeable cotillon for the whole company when Lensky is pointedly left aside. The mirror helps give a sense of claustrophobia that he yearns to break, sensing that Olga’s love for him cannot rise to the poetic realm he inhabits, and Onegin presents a fine object for his despair.

This is a great production of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved opera, and despite being a revival of the 2007 production it feels completely fresh and is a must-see.

Performances continue on tour at: Exeter Northcott, 21, 24 March; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, 27 March; Lighthouse, Poole, 31 March; York Theatre Royal, 4 Apr; Norwich Theatre Royal, 11 Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 14 Apr; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 17 Apr; The Hawth, Crawley, 21 Apr; G Live Guildford, 24 Apr; Buxton Opera House, 27 Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 2, 5 May; Warwick Arts Centre, 10, 11 May; Gala Theatre, Durham, 15 May; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, 18 May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 23, 26 May — for details click here.

2 Responses to “Eugene Onegin, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2012”

  1. I’m a great admirer of ETO and how well they always manage with such constraints and limited space. I have booked both Seville & Onegin for May in Cambridge where I patronise ETO always. These two operas I am quite familiar with also and your review has given me more enthusiasm than normal!

  2. Errghh Saw this last night, horrible. Tatanya’s voice screeched at me, could it have been the equipment? She was over weight and looked old compared to the suave Onegin. Her role would have been better matched with Falstaff! The band were not so great either and I disliked the translation…..nothing more to say really, except I hope the Barber of Seville tomorrow is better!

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