Love and flirtation, squabbles and deadly retribution ensue. Tanya, humiliated by Onegin, who does not return her love, becomes a career woman in her own right, in a modern departure from the original, rather than depending in maturity on marriage to an established, wealthy man for her status.
This new translation by Robin Norton-Hale enjoys the modern landscape – 'You met a man who said he'd take you to LA', 'She's like a one-hit wonder song, easy to like at first'. It also finds a surprising number of jokes and can be touching. Out go the samovar, and in come the cocktails; the 60s vibe is more Naples than Nevsky Prospect.
With the meat of the original score divided between the 10 singers – principals singing chorus roles too – the biggest loss is Gremin's aria: Tanya doesn't need that older man. And the orchestration by violinist James Widden and cellist Alison Holford, however resourceful, is a little thin, despite the expressive clarinet of Sarah Douglas and titanic piano-playing of musical director Sonia Ben-Santamaria. Desolate Onegin's last line is surprisingly weak too.
But there is so much more to like in Lucy Bradley's witty production: the period detail and attitudes, the new independent of Tanya and the social aspiration of the Larina household. On the Arcola's tiny stage the great fight at Tanya's birthday party and its even more violent follow-up are truly alarming, and the entire cast are so believable in their roles.
As Onegin in the first of two casts, Felix Kemp is cocky then crushed. Lucy Hall as Tanya in cast one grows from love-struck teenager to celebrity author, her letter scene a tour de force. Anthony Flaum as dejected Lensky may have struggled a bit with the small size of the venue – he spreads his wings in Grange Park Opera's Roméo et Juliette next summer – but when he cries, 'You ripped my heart out', you bleed too.
With terrific work from Felicity Buckland as Olga, rich-voiced Flora McIntosh as family friend Evie, Kathryn Hannah (Larina) as a hostess straight out of Abigail's Party, this may be the first ever Onegin where you want more of party-singer Triquet (Michael Bradley), rather than less.
Eugene Onegin is performed in English, Monday to Saturday, with 3PM matinees on Wednesday 20 December, and every Saturday of the run (22 Nov-23 Dec). There is a post-show discussion after the 3PM matinee on Saturday 2 December.
|What||Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin review , OperaUpClose, Arcola|
|Where||Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street , London, E8 3DL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Dalston Junction (overground)|
22 Nov 17 – 23 Dec 17, 7:30 PM – 10:15 PM
|Price||£10 - £22|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|