Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2013Posted on 5 February 2013
Artistic director Kasper Holten decided quite sensibly to take over the scheduled revival of an earlier production, and do something new. He was already endowed with some fine singers, so there were excellent performances here, including sympathetic conducting by Robin Ticciati.
Simon Keenlyside sang strongly as Onegin though the production prevented him from giving a full portrayal of the character. His Tatyana was Krassimira Stoyanova, who sang powerfully, but the production curtailed her dramatic interpretation by having an actress/ dancer portray the emotive moments. No such problems for Pavol Breslik as Lensky, who sang superbly; I loved his sincere apology to Madame Larina after challenging Onegin to a duel while being her guest, and his soliloquy at the start of Part II before the duel brought the house down.
Among the secondary roles, Tatyana’s nurse Filippyevna was beautifully sung by Kathleen Wilkinson, Zaretsky (Lensky’s second) was strongly portrayed by bass Jihoon Kim, and Peter Rose delivered a stunning monologue as Prince Gremin. Glorious singing then from cast, and chorus too, and with eyes closed, like one man near me, it was wonderful.
The production itself was a bit too clever as the director plays with time, flashbacks, and a dream world. It all starts before the overture with the mature Tatyana showing silent grief, and Onegin appearing on stage during the overture. In Scene 1 when he and Lensky arrive at the house it is Onegin who enters first, and replaces a book in a cupboard he has never seen before. Then Onegin reappears in the letter scene, as he does in Cranko’s ballet Onegin, which the ROH is currently performing, and though Simon Keenlyside is one of the few top rate singers who can do ballet lifts, the choreography seemed unnecessarily melodramatic in an opera context.
In the duel scene there are two Onegins, with Keenlyside as the mature one regretting the act, and an actor as the young one with a killer instinct. When Lensky is shot his body lies on stage for the rest of the opera, and in the final scene between Onegin and Tatyana, Prince Gremin appears as if in her imagination. Finally the young Tatyana and Onegin reappear as a bit of what-might-have-been, but to me a distraction.
Both Tatyanas wear a red dress throughout, with the mature one covered by a white ball gown in the last two scenes, and the chorus ladies in their voluminous black dresses reminded me of a Cromwellian Puritanism, which doesn’t seem to suit the story. The director has said part of his aim was to do it all on a tight budget, but in the past year I have seen enjoyably imaginative productions by Opera Holland Park and English Touring Opera, both of which work to very tight budgets.
As an opera director at Covent Garden, Kasper Holten has more to learn about sight-lines. Some of the action was entirely front stage-left and I met people who could not see it. Pity.
Performances continue until February 20 — for details click here.