This production, like this season’s Carmen, makes imaginative use of takis’s annular set which puts the orchestra in the middle of the action. It’s a treat to see and hear some of the action only a few feet from the front rows of the audience.
At the performance, I saw, which showcased the talents of singers in Opera Holland Park Young Artists Scheme Samuel Dale Johnson – who plays the role in the main cast show – stood in as Onegin for indisposed Rory Musgrave. Johnson, tall and charismatic brings all the brash insouciance the character needs in the early scenes followed by wonderfully sung anguish and remorse at his final rejection – which is played on the very front of the ring.
Has anyone ever done passion quite like Tchaikovsky with his plaintive, plangent brass interjections? In this performance Lucy Anderson as Tatyana delivers every note and nuance in the challengingly long letter scene which she sustains with admirable control. And the repeated descending horn motif – hinting that this love letter is not going to bring happiness – hits the spot every time under Hannah von Wiehler’s clear, incisive baton. It’s a good directorial idea (Julia Burbach) to have Onegin physically on stage in mime at this point to connote what Tatyana is imagining. We see something similar in the second act when Onegin and Tatyana meet five years later and we are shown on stage what is going on in Tatyana’s head as her husband Prince Gemin (Henry Grant Kerswell – good) sings of married happiness.
Anne Elizabeth Cooper is suitably ebullient and excitable as the other sister Olga. She has the beginnings of a rich traditional contralto voice (think Ferrier or Baker) with some velvety bottom notes. She is a nice foil to the more intense Tatyana. Similarly Jack Roberts as Lenksy contrasts with Onegin especially as they quarrel at the end of the first act. He sings Lensky’s aria with both passion and precision while von Wiehler ensures we hear the woodwind shining through the texture.
The chorus sound is strong and only very occasionally, and briefly swamped by the orchestra. And every performer on stage is directed to make maximum use of the huge playing space.
In the first act the women wear simple white dresses which reminded me, off-puttingly, of nighties. I think these are meant to suggest youthful innocence because everyone is in heavy, grown up black after the interval. As a device it feels a bit clumsy – but this is a very minor gripe about a fine production and performance.