Gone are sumptuous sets and elaborate costumes, replaced by a more one-dimensional yet visually compelling set
The Royal Opera House’s Eugene Onegin, directed by Kasper Holten, has been turned on its head through the use of reflective twists and turns and indeed the whole opera being told as a flashback. We saw Tatyana and Onegin parting at the start before they'd even met, before the arrogant young poet had spurned the lovelorn country girl.
For those who aren’t familiar with the plot it could sometimes be confusing but it spoke to me inasmuch as it vividly dramatises the regrets the central characters have, looking back on their foolish decisions, wishing they could change the impetuousness of youth which in this story has fatal consequences. Holten manages to achieve a great sense of melancholy throughout – but at the expense of the drama.
Instead of a flighty naïve Tatyana we have a mature woman whose youthful self is acted by a young dancer. Gone are sumptuous sets and elaborate costumes, replaced by a more one-dimensional yet visually compelling set by Mia Stensgaard, complete with projections by 59 Productions who were responsible for the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
The letter scene, where Tatyana writes a confession of her love to Onegin, becomes less of an expression of abandonment of youthful love from the singer and more of an expression through dance. The consequences of this meant you never fully appreciated what Krassimira Stoyanova who sings Tatyana had to give us, and I felt slightly cheated by what should have been the climax of the act.
Pavol Breslik as Lensky, Simon Keenlyside as Eugene Onegin and Thom Rackett as Young Eugene Onegin in Eugene Onegin © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Simon Keenlyside who sung Ongein, however, gives us his all on an almost pathological level; so immersed in character, muttering his thoughts and embroiled in the drama of this lost man on a course of utter self destruction, I thought he was going to self-combust. Keenlyside should be playing Richard III with the RSC on his days off just to give himself a break.
Pavol Breslik who sings Lensky was a refreshing break from the overwhelming sense of doom. Admittedly he isn’t around for long but his superb aria at the start of the second act was simply stunning despite the fact he was dragging on a tree. He possessed a clear tone, lovely phrasing and he is a good looking match to the swarthy and troubled friend Onegin. Elena Maximova’s Olga was also a vocal and visual treat:rich in tone, beautifully sung and charmingly portrayed, the perfect match for Breslik and a joy to watch.
Instead of the ballroom scene in Act Two, Onegin dances with an array of shadowy women, each of whom he touches and destroys. Although cleverly choreographed by Signe Fabricus and top marks for Keenlyside in his suave execution of such a complicated scene, it did seem like a dance sequence from Top Hat (or so says the editor of Spear's, who was also there).
Another twist was the wonderful Peter Rose who sings Prince Gremin: he had pathos even as he bullied Onegin, in contrast to his usual kindly portrayal. Instead of the kind, grateful husband, he was confrontational. When he makes the unusual return to witness the final scene between Onegin and Tayana, even more lives are destroyed in a clever touch by Holten.
Below: Watch the trailer for Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House
I understand what Holten is doing here and I love to explore new themes and angles but I felt key elements were lost in his vision. The music was, however, stunning: Robin Ticciati has a joyful manner of conducting Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece despite long pauses to accommodate the drama.
Holten’s Onegin achieved its desired effect on this emotional, impressionable soprano for I was quietly sobbing in my seat, managing to weep my way through a whole packet of tissues.