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Friday, February 28, 2014

The body in the ballroom



To the Opera House for a new production of Eugene Onegin. The success of the evening is really built on the splendid Tatyana of Nicole Car, who was little short – if at all short – of splendid; a rich totally assured soprano at its best, and a fine dramatic actress not only accomplished but offering much for the future. She was  not really matched by the rest of the cast, which was competent rather than really exciting. Dalibor Jenis is a baritone of very considerable experience, who never falters as Onegin, but lacks both musical and physical excitement, and if an Onegin isn’t emotionally exciting in both those fields he can’t really succeed completely in the part – especially in the last act, never easy to bring off. James Eggleston’s Lensky is rich in decibels but not in sensitivity: he delivered the great aria of farewell to life as though it was a military call to arms, and the sheen of sweet, nostalgic melancholy essential to it was nowhere to be heard. Sian Pendry is a sweetly pretty and charming Olga about whom a tenor might well lose his head. Kanen Breen’s Triquet is properly silly without being decrepit, which is fine. One hoped for much of the Russian bass Konstantin Gorny, but Gremin’s great hymn to marriage, though perfectly adequate, brought no real thrill of richness from his voice. All this probably sounds more denigratory than one means to be: the evening is never less than satisfactory, and sometimes – as in Ms Car’s thrilling letter scene – a great deal more. Apart from . . . on yes, now we come to the production. Kasper Holten’s idea of two Tatyanas and Onegins – of the mature Tatyana looking back at the great romantic event of her youth, with dancers portraying the young lovers, is original and exciting and works extremely well during the first half of the evening. Alas, after the interval – as with so many Big Ideas – everything falls apart and becomes farcical. Lensky, killed in the duel with Onegin, has to remain dead on-stage for forty minutes, with the entire audience’s attention focussed on him – is he really breathing? will he sneeze? did we see him clink? – while Prince Gremin is faced with the problem of giving a really good party with a dead body and a sizable piece of tree in the middle of his ballroom floor. The set is a great mistake, with a line of French windows bisecting the stage, so that both dance scenes become impossible to mount – not so bad in the domestic ball, with its coarse menace (who quite why it should be menacing is another question) but hopeless in the second, with the aristocratic couples actually unable to dance, and forced to shuffle about uneasily trying to avoid the ladies’ dresses getting snagged up in the silly piece of tree (and not always succeeding).
So, in the famous remark of the curate at tea, the egg is good in parts. But hey, who expects perfection. It’s a good evening, Tchaikowsky's score is simply wonderful, and there’s an excellent excuse to have another grumble at directors who don’t really think about the consequences of their Big Ideas. Who could want more?

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