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.