Amanda Echalaz did master this huge role, giving us some soaring top notes and lovely long fermatas
I took my place in the stalls, right behind David Mellor and David Dimbleby at Deborah Warner’s production of Eugene Onegin at the ENO; they weren’t together, I hasten to add. This is a co-production with the Met and is a perfect opera for first timers: the design and lighting are stunning, the singing superb as befits the ENO, yet I did find some aspects rather stifled and heavy. This may have been down to a somewhat less than poetic translation; I’m still reeling from the witty punches that Jeremy Sams delivered in the Marriage of Figaro, so perhaps I’ve been spoilt.
The first act (unusually) takes place in an expansive barn; gone are the sumptuous bourgeois trappings of a middle class Russian country estate garden, replaced by trestle tables, huge barn doors and a makeshift bed. No wonder Lensky wasn’t attracted to Tatyana – this drab girl lives in an outhouse.
No matter, for there was some superb heartfelt singing from the wonderful Amanda Echalaz as Tatyana: even though she didn’t come across as na?ve and impetuous as the character demands, she did master this huge role, giving us some soaring top notes and lovely long fermatas. Claudia Huckle’s Olga was rich, well defined and wonderfully acted, perhaps not a flirtatious as other Olgas but I sense this was somewhat on purpose. I loved her performance and was drawn to her glowing presence throughout the opera.
Toby Spence’s Lensky is sensitive, attractive and terrifically sung: his aria at the end of the second act featured some extraordinary pianissimos and was the highlight for me. He is certainly a star, however he was paired with a less than commanding Onegin sung by Audun Iversen. His lovely, warm voice somewhat lacks the power that this difficult and rather complex role demands. Perhaps it was second night syndrome.
The stunning sets for Acts II and III were certainly impressive. This, coupled with the most sumptuous Victorian costumes by Chloe Obolensky, provided true visual splendor. The production has been slightly updated to the late 19th Century; neoclassical mirrored floors and a flurry of dancers waltzing between eight huge Ionic columns around a brooding Onegin made this a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
Catherine Wyn-Rogers as the nurse and Diana Montague as Madame Larina show us how lucky we are to have such superb casting in one production. Adrian Thompson as Monsieur Triquet was a wonderful cameo, as well as the rich, penetrating Bass Brindley Sherratt who gave us a sumptuous and beautiful rendition of Prince Gremin’s famous aria. What a voice he has!
As tragedy unfolds and love is lost, as Tatyana kisses Onegin in retaliation for his patronising kiss years before, you feel the anguish and pain of these two blighted lovers, separated by protocol, marriage and that age old enemy of a budding relationship, timing. It seems they will never get it right and they live to regret it. Story of my life, that’s for sure.
This is a classy and timeless production with superb singers, all held together well by the strong, competent (and rather sexy) conductor Ed Gardner. The themes in Onegin still ring true: the bourgeois obsession with ego, vanity and class will be their own downfall and revolution is just around the corner…
by Melinda Hughes