Now, one of the problems with any opera – like any book or play – is that once you know the outcome of a pivotal moment like this duel, there is no unknowing it. So the intelligent and imaginative interpretation of this endlessly captivating opera, superbly staged by the director Michael Boyd, finds exciting ways to show how hollow is the victory that comes back to haunt the duel's survivor: his life henceforward is tainted and unrewarding however far he travels by land and sea in search of refreshment.
Like many moments in this fine and focused production, the initial outcome of the duel comes as a genuine shock. But solid direction aside, it takes singers with both the calibre of voice and the acting skills of tenor Oleksiy Palchykov, as the fiancé of younger sister Olga, and baritone Roderick Williams, as his aloof, attractive neighbour Onegin, to make us believe in a friendship so quickly curdled. Boyd's theatrical background is so evident in building up all the entirely plausible relationships of the piece: the affectionate differences between the sisters, the anxious love of their mother (Louise Winter), the stilted, elegant, etiquette that hides gnawing passions.
Details are beautifully and intelligently observed: in keeping with a small society, for example, there is often an unseen observer, visible to the audience but not to those on stage who believe themselves to be alone. And I have never been more moved by the opening pages – the sisters sing dreamily of their future as the older women look back on how their own ideals were tempered and love sacrificed by practicality. The musical and visual juxtaposition is simply heartbreaking.
All this unfolds, of course, within the magical, clear-sided auditorium at Garsington that gives straight on to the gardens and landscape: the perfect backdrop for the largely rural scenes. And when Tatyana stays up all night, smitten by Onegin, and writes the letter to him that will change everything, she is joined in her song of unrestrained love and desire by a blackbird outside.
Williams has one of the loveliest voices – and personalities – on the British stage, and his sense of purpose as he first rejects the love-struck Tatyana and then, embarrassed, humiliated, unguided, and fuelled by red wine, misbehaves catastrophically, is superbly calculated. He also moves wonderfully, all the hauteur that hides a damaged soul translated into the set of his shoulders, his uncompromising stride.
As Tatyana, Natalya Romaniw is thrilling from the outset, dark and thoughtful, hemmed in at home until her intense reading literally broadens her horizons, the walls of Tom Piper's set parting as she turns the pages, seeking romance. (Piper's mirrored ballroom in the last act is another simple joy.) This is a wonderful performance at every level by Romaniw. She will be in action again shortly at Opera Holland Park as Lisa in Tchaikovsky's other great opera, The Queen of Spades.
The four great dances of Onegin are shot through with other, sometimes superfluous choreography, but it does often serve to indicate the inner movements and turmoil in the heart of the characters as they present, for the most part, decorously to each other. Douglas Boyd whisks the orchestra inexorably to the drama's tumultuous end, with particularly lovely oboe and cello work. And a very nice cameo from Martin Hassler as the Captain bodes well for the future.
|What||Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera review|
|Where||Garsington Opera, Wormsley Estate , Stokenchurch, HP14 3YG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Marylebone (underground)|
03 Jun 16 – 07 Jul 16, 6:00 PM – 10:15 PM
|Price||£85 - £200|