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Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin:
Soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Philippe Jordan, 20.3.06 (ED)

New Production; co-production with Finnish National Opera

Madame Larina: Yvonne Howard (soprano)
Tatiana: Amanda Roocroft (soprano)
Olga: Nino Surguladze (contralto)
Filipievna: Susan Gorton (mezzo)
Lensky: Rolando Villazón (tenor)
Eugene Onegin: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
M.Triquet: Ryland Davies (tenor)
Prince Gremin: Eric Halfvarson (bass)
Zaretsky: Robert Gleadow (baritone)
(Jette Parker Young Artist)

Conductor: Philippe Jordan
Director: Steven Pimlott
Designs: Antony McDonald
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Choreography and Movement: Linda Dobell

Of the several productions given by The Royal Opera this season it has been my good fortune to see, this new production of Eugene Onegin has been without doubt the most eagerly anticipated. In some cases the anticipation of the opera-going public was rewarded and in other cases it was not. More often than not where things were found wanting a question of emphasis made itself felt.

Steven Pimlott’s conception of the opera took some liberties with its setting, and made occasionally strange uses of space; quite why this was necessary was not readily apparent. The Larin’s country abode was spotless despite wholesome peasant types (think Kasimir Malevich) trudging all over it; the St Petersburg ball seemingly took place in the open air. The Royal Opera Chorus seem to be continuing their dubious contributions to the season, though here they reached a new low point in my experience. Not long ago things were so different.

Despite the urgency of Roocroft’s singing in Act I, which was matched to a large extent by the other singers, conductor Philippe Jordan seemed intent on holding the orchestra on a tight rein. As a result, key moments in ‘Tatiana’s Letter Scene’ and elsewhere throughout the act failed to make the impact they might.

As things progressed the question of emphasis became more pronounced with further confirmation of the feeling that Roocroft was vocally not entirely at ease with the role of Tatiana. Where girlish tone should mature in the last act, no room was left for development by her earlier efforts. Jordan seemed a changed man after the interval and projected a far more passionate, heart-on-sleeve account of the score; however some idiosyncratic tempo choices continued to prevail.

Onegin is a role that Dmitri Hvorostovsky has lived with and successfully recorded. His is a mature assumption. Earlier in the season I called to question his stiffness of tone, but here it seemed appropriate in suggesting Onegin’s aloof and haughty demeanour from the start. He projected the desolation that succumbing to love too late can bring in Act III, with feeling in both acting and voice. By contrast, Rolando Villazón’s role debut as Lensky confirmed, as if further proof were needed, how assuredly and quickly his star continues to ascend. With characterisation that was at once heartfelt, matched by a near ideal tone that was by turns forthright, loving and desolate, his performance of Lensky’s aria was a highlight of the evening.

The emphasis on the action in favour of Lensky and Olga (as opposed to Onegin and Tatiana) was added to by the presence of Nino Surguladze, who projected youthful ardour and fresh-faced impetuousness with confidence. Her voice, too, possessing richly nuanced contralto hues, showed that she is a singer with intelligence to watch out for.

The third ‘pair’ within the opera’s fabric, Madame Larina and Filipievna, were generally well matched. Lesser parts in terms of role size were excellently taken: Ryland Davies imbuing M. Triquet with just the right degree of foppish eccentricity, whilst Eric Halfvarson lent an air of earnest seriousness mixed with renewed emotional commitment to Prince Gremin. Robert Gleadow again underlined his growing reputation in the cameo role of Zaretsky.

All in all a mixed evening, and if in the end some measure of the emotion and feeling needed in this great work was arrived at, it’s all the more the pity that it was not assured from the start, or that emphases of action were correctly in place.

Evan Dickerson




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)