Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2015Posted on 20 December 2015
In February 2013 this was Kasper Holten’s first new production after being appointed opera director, and it is ironic that this revival occurs less than two weeks after he handed in his notice.
It is now a co-production with Turin and Opera Australia, and has undergone changes. There is slightly less use of the dreadful Doppelgängers — the dancing Tatiana no longer hides in a cupboard — but the new wimpish portrayal of the dancing Onegin made no sense. Last time the young one had a killer instinct and the older one remorse, but the apparent reversal this time suggested a lack of directorial conviction. The effeminate dancing Onegin seemed an irritating irrelevance, as did the behaviour of the chorus ladies in the country ball scene when they surround Tatiana in her red dress like Presbyterian spoilsports mocking a pretty young Catholic.
Musically it was another matter entirely. The chorus was terrific, and Semyon Bychkov’s conducting out of this world. This was the first opera he ever conducted (in 1972), though never before has he done it at the Royal Opera. It is one of those performances to look back on as sheer perfection, and the letter scene with Australian soprano Nicole Car was a model of clarity, simplicity and emotion. This is a singer of exquisite distinction and vocal nuance, and an accomplished actress able at all times to express the character’s inner feelings. Marvellous.
Dmitri Hvorotovsky was never less than perfection as Onegin, with American tenor Michael Fabiano as Lensky making his ROH debut. After an over-forceful and rather too Italianate start he relaxed into the role and sang with huge passion, delivering a riveting poetic soliloquy before the duel. A very fine Madame Larina by Diana Montague, with Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Filippyevna wonderful in her duet with Tatiana as she recalls her early marriage at thirteen. Oksana Volkova made a pretty, if not very coquettish Olga, and in the thankless role of the family’s French tutor Monsieur Triquet, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt gave a well-sung and delightfully exasperating performance.
As Prince Gremin, Ferruccio Furlanetto was surprisingly disappointing, off-pitch and occasionally sliding into his notes, but overall this was a glorious performance of the opera only spoiled by the dancing and a production sometimes at odds with the text. Despite fine scenery and costumes it is unlikely to be revived, but this has to be heard, and on the final date Brindley Sherratt replaces Furlanetto — sold out, I’m afraid.
Performances continue on various dates until January 7 with a BBC Radio 3 broadcast at 6:30 pm on February 13 — for details click here.