Eugene Onegin, Grange Park Opera, June 2013Posted on 10 June 2013
At the end, after Onegin has clung uselessly to Tatyana and she has pulled herself away and left the stage, we see Prince Gremin walk across the upper level holding a pistol. A fine dramatic effect, following many others in this beautifully honed production.
The splitting of the set into an upper and lower level, combined with clever lighting and the use of freezes by the performers, helps bring out the internal passions and confusions of the characters. It also allows us to change focus from one thing to another, as in Act I with the two couples, or with the women of the house on the upper level silhouetted when the peasants arrive on the lower. And the choreography is wonderful. The straw characters brought in by the peasants in Act I are fun, and the country ball in Act II is full of buzz and delightfully fast footwork by some of the girls. The colours, the costumes, everything works together making it seem in Act I as if Onegin and Tatyana are made for one another.
Yet the refined aloofness of Canadian baritone Brett Polegato, well shown at the start as he declines to take Madam Larina’s hand, causes this sympathetically portrayed man to ruin his own happiness and that of others. Polegato’s fine lyrical gravitas was complemented by Susan Gritton’s portrayal of huge dramatic tension as Tatyana, particularly her impulsiveness in the Act I letter scene, and as hostess of the ball in Act III when she returns Onegin’s letter. As her sister Olga, Frances Bourne brought out the character’s foolish superficiality, and Polegato illustrated Onegin’s good intentions in showing Lensky what a silly thing she is. As he overdoes the insult, Robert Anthony Gardiner as Lensky showed huge frustration and confusion, and the production kept him bafflingly surrounded by dancers during the cotillon. His V vashem domye (in your house) apology to Madam Larina was heartfelt, as was his soliloquy before the duel, and this production amply shows the callowness of the four young people.
With Anne-Marie Owens a fine Madam Larina, and Clive Bayley giving a wonderful gravely depth to Prince Gremin’s soliloquy, this was altogether an excellent cast complemented by the powerful presence of Kathleen Wilkinson as Tanya’s nurse Filippyevna. She sang the same role in the recent Covent Garden production, which confused the story by using doubles for the main characters, while this excellent production simply sets out to tell Pushkin’s story as expressed by Tchaikovsky. As a friend said to me on the way out, this is what opera is supposed to be!
Covent Garden boasted that they were doing it on a low budget, but methinks they could learn something from Grange Park, which receives no Arts Council or Lottery Funding at all. Martyn Brabbins drew out both tension and happiness in the music, and Stephen Medcalf’s production showed huge clarity and attention to detail. Excellent designs by Francis O’Connor beautifully lit by Paul Keogan, and I loved Lynn Hockney’s choreography. Knocks other productions into a cocked hat.
The final performance is on July 11 — for details click here.