Near ideal Onegin

25 May

The first revival of the season at Glyndebourne is often one of the highlights and this year’s Eugene Onegin was no exception.   Glyndebourne is also conscious of its history and, for the twentieth anniversary of the new house, it was, presumably a no-brainer to revive the first new production seen there. I saw the performance on 25th May and it felt like one of the finest performances of the opera that I’ve seen.

There were two very significant reasons for this.  This first is that Graham Vick was involved in the preparation of it had a certainty and freshness about it without the remotest sense of routine.  Chorus, dancers (Ron Howell’s choreography is a joy) and all the roles knew exactly what they were doing and what they were about and were superbly prepared.  At one point as Onegin and Lensky were quarrelling, Lensky spilled a cup onto the stage where it smashed.  I don’t know whether this was deliberate or an accident, but the reactions were so much in character and managed so successfully that it simply didn’t matter.

It’s a production that looks perfect – you can’t imagine a better setting – a deceptively simple set enabling some brilliant stage pictures and clear, thoughtful acting.  The two scenes for Onegin and Tatyana are linked by those two chairs set apart from each other (and there’s a wonderful moment in the first where Onegin passes Tatyana to sing his aria and barely looks at her).  The party in the second act has the same naturalistic detail that characterised Vick’s ROH Meistersinger but which never distracts you from what’s going on and is superbly contrasted with the stylised caricature of the Petersburg ball.  I can’t imagine wanting to change a single move or image.

The second was the conducting of Omer Meir Wellber.  Conducting without a score and eliciting hugely committed, visceral playing from the LPO, he made everything seem absolutely right.  I loved the way in which shaped the arias, particularly Triquet’s, Lensky’s and Gremin’s so that they made sense.  He was in absolute control and got the passion and tenderness of this opera to perfection.  This was on a par with Jurowski’s at this opera’s last outing here and the sheer excitement and intensity reminded of Gergiev’s debut at the Royal Opera House in this piece.  This was a hugely confident debut and he’ll be welcome back here or, indeed, anywhere else.

Glyndebourne had got a very good cast indeed – mostly slavonic and with the looks to carry off their roles well. Andrei Bondarenko catches the bored arrogance of Onegin perfectly and also the change that comes over him first after the death of Lensky (a new wig helps too) and then when he meets Tatyana at the ball.  He sings the rejection aria with a cool matter-of-factness that is absolutely right and conveys the regret and inevitability of the duet before the duel.  Only in the last act did I question whether he had quite the vocal heft or the sheer passion that can make that final scene gut wrenching and leave you feeling shaken.

I think this was partly to do with Ekaterina Scherbachenko’s Tatyana.  She has a gorgeous voice and she sang with purity, with taste and beauty without ever convincing me of the rawness of the passion in the letter scene.  She conveyed the loneliness and the sadness of the role – and there was real sincerity in the last scene – but, again, I never quite felt that she was giving up the love of her life.  There was an element of calculation about it.

There was a really fine Lensky from Edgaras Montvidas – he looked like the ideal Russian poet and conveyed the innocence of the man.  I don’t think I’ve heard his aria better sung: this was passionate, beautifully controlled singing conveying the nostalgia, the regret and the certainty of death.  This is a singer who suddenly seems to be ready for leading roles and I hope I’ll see him in more.

There was a convincing, moving and beautifully sung Gremin from Taras Shtonda, a lively, really beautiful Olga from Ekaterina Sergeeva (how well Vick directs this role, particularly in the party scene), a really fine Larina from Diana Montague who caught the nostalgia beautifully in her duet with Irina Tchistjakova’s warm Filipyevna and a charming Triquet from François Piolino, not caricatured, just right.  The chorus was in outstanding fettle, singing fully and precisely and having a wonderful time in the party scenes. 

I love this opera.  It has so much to say about age and youth, about lost opportunities and about thoughtless arrogance and this production conveys all of this with a simple elegance that most directors can simply aspire to.  With outstanding conducting and very, very fine singing, this makes an excellent evening that lacks only the last ounce of passion and, perhaps, chemistry between the leading the characters, to make it great.

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