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Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera/Jonathan Darlington, Coliseum, 14 June, 2005 (CC)



There is much to recommend the current ENO Onegin. This is the third revival of Julia Hollander's 1994 production, and it is easy to see why it stands the test of time. Beautiful colours and dramatically effective use of available space make for telling effect.


The performance existed on two strata. Vocally it was dominated by Gerald Finley, everything one could want from an Onegin, with the other voices supporting him to varying degrees of success. Orchestrally (the other stratum), there was a linear progression from some distinctly ropey playing at the opening through to a charged and beautiful finale.


The chorus, beautifully balanced though it was, made the perfect case for surtitles at ENO, even though the works are performed in English. Luckily, diction from the three major soloists of the first part of the first Tableau, Yvonne Howard (Madame Larina), Louise Poole (Olga) and Catrin Wyn-Davies (Tatiana) was exemplary. Howard's Larina was lovely and matronly, a cuddly mother-figure with a mezzo voice that could occasionally and rightly veer towards the contralto. Both Olga and Tatiana were pictures to look at. Vocally, their voices worked well together; further, when the two joined Lensky and Onegin in ensemble, it revealed the true strength of ENO as a company.


No one could hope that individually all would be equal, however. Gwyn Hughes Jones' Lensky was rather provincial, rather bleaty (a trait that was to affect his scene in Act II – his way with the all-pervading descending scale theme was rather superficial, too), making the difference in standard between himself and Finley all the more obvious. Finley did not put a foot wrong all night. If forced to pick a highlight, perhaps his Act III monologue, as dolente as they come, would be this writer's choice – but there were so many moments to choose from.


His Tatiana, Catrin Wyn-Davies, sounded marvelously youthful. Her Letter Scene was fairly involving and – importantly – eminently believable. Her voice is capable of a really large sound (as in the third scene) yet she can thin it to a thread, too. Louise Poole's Olga was acceptable, if a little wobbly in Act II. John Graham-Hall was a fun Monsieur Triquet (he sang his song in French). But if one character was to approach (if not match) Finley, it was Peter Rose's focused, resonant Prince Gremin. No surprise to learn that his future plans include Gurnemanz in Vienna and Hamburg. His pitching was spot-on, his aria exuding lyric calm. The final scene between Onegin and Tatiana was amazingly moving. The dramatic use of space came into its own here. The stage was almost bare, the very emptiness emphasizing the chasm now between the two characters after all that has happened.


Orchestrally, it was the wind department's contributions that stood out. On a visual level, a word about the colouring of the opera. The black walls and half-lights of Act III, the riot of burgundy red that provided such a sophisticated setting for the Act II party scenes and the calm blue of Tatiana's bedroom all set the scene perfectly, making an emotional as well as visual effect. Jonathan Darlington, Music Director of both Vancouver Opera and the Duisberg Philharmonic and making his ENO debut with this run of performances, showed real affinity to the contours of Tchaikovsky's take on Pushkin. The orchestra clearly warms to him (literally in the sense that they warmed up as the evening progressed). He will, I am sure, be welcomed back. But the evening belonged to the titular hero, Onegin in a Finleyesque incarnation. Do try to catch a performance of this quality production.



Colin Clarke

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