15 Nov 2011
Eugene Onegin, ENO
Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an evocative and lyrical depiction of elegiac passion.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an evocative and lyrical depiction of elegiac passion.
Fittingly for a work drawn from Pushkin’s verse novel, Warner’s vision is literary in its inspiration. Moving the action forward fifty years, from Pushkin’s 1840s to the late-nineteenth century, the director and her designer, Tom Pye, conjure a moving picture of Chekovian ‘twilight moods’. The pace is gently controlled; beautifully rendered natural scene drops unfold, like pages of a book, as we move through the chapters of the protagonists’ lives. The visual detail and accuracy of observation recalls Chekhov’s stylised blend of realism and romance.
Pye’s designs are sumptuous and surprising. The imposing ballroom columns of the third act, through which polonaising couples burst, justly won an instantaneous gasp of applause; cleverly, as the suppressed emotions of the social interior are exchanged for the freedom of the natural exterior, the splendid pillars become terrace colonnades – their majesty emphasising the tragic frailty of the protagonists. Most impressive was the silvery lakeside expanse of the second act, all glistening ice, wintry branches and shimmering mist – perfectly capturing the frozen emotions of the duellists who are alienated by jealousy, pride and convention.
The only puzzle was the vast barn of act one, which replaced the usual winter dacha. It was not clear why members of the fairly wealthy Larin family slept in what looked like an outbuilding. And, such an immense expense, stretching into the wings and up to the flies, was not the ideal location for Tatiana’s letter scene, which requires a sense of intimacy and constraint. Jean Kalman’s striking lighting did help: violent shadows loomed ominously behind the tormented heroine, and the gleaming sunrise which heralded the end of the act was almost painful in its gradually deepening intensity. The designs were complemented by Chloe Obolensky’s detailed naturalistic costumes.
Of the strong cast assembled, it was Toby Spence, as a fervently passionately Lensky who shone brightest. A sustained and utterly convincing dramatic interpretation was matched by a faultless vocal performance. In particular, in his act 2 aria preceding the duel, Spence delivered an exquisite pianissimo passage of reflection, poignantly recognising and regretting that even genuine fraternal love could not prevent pointless annihilation of life. The tensions and antagonisms between Lensky and Onegin were visually suggested by the taut diagonal line that the men formed as they ranged their rifles, Lensky sited to the rear of the stage, already receding from life. Warner’s attention to detail was impressive in this scene; telling touches, such as Onegin’s removal of his hat, subtly shaped the audience’s response.
Amanda Echalaz as Tatiana and Claudia Huckle as Olga
Lensky’s romantic ardour was such that it is hard to imagine how he could have formed such a strong friendship with the coolly aloof Onegin of Audun Iversen! It is a role that the Norwegian baritone has tackled to acclaim several times before; in this production, his Onegin is not a dastardly villain but wavers between blunt honesty and immature self-indulgence. He is bored by and frustrated with stifling social conventions. Although a little constrained to begin, by the final act Iversen’s beautiful mellow tone, with its rich low notes and free, relaxed in upper register, went some way to winning the audience’s sympathy for this flawed dreamer.
Having recently taken audiences by storm as Tosca at both of London’s main houses, Amanda Echalaz’s Tatiana was a little disappointing. There is no doubting the wonderful strength and depth of her voice, and her secure chest notes are impressive. Tatiana’s elegiac passion was powerfully conveyed. But, Echalaz’s tone was rather one-dimensional. She has admirable stamina and there was lots of power, but not much light and shade. There were some moments of gleam, but on the whole both more radiance and more fragility were required in order to convey Tatiana’s tragic vulnerability and emotional frailty. There were some intonation problems too, particularly a tendency for the fortissimos to stray sharpwards.
Auden Iversen as Onegin and Amanda Echalaz as Tatiana
The principals were well supported by the minor roles. Diana Montague (Larina) and Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Filippyevna) were superb, while Claudia Huckle was a lively, impassioned Olga. Brindley Sherratt, who impressed in ENO’s recent Simon Boccanegra, displayed gravitas and honesty as the elderly Gremin. In the cameo role of Monsieur Triquet, Adrian Thompson almost stole the show!
The thunder of the enlarged chorus in the climactic moments was rich and thrilling, although they were a little untidy at times. The stage was crowded, with children and dancers adding to the maelstrom. Kim Brandstrup’s choreography combined stylised realisation of Russian peasant culture enriched with modernist gesture; both in the opening act and the later ballroom the dances served to establish cultural mannerisms and social hierarchies.
Claudia Huckle as Olga and Toby Spence as Lensky
Edward Gardner conducted with consummate appreciation of the spirit and pace of the opera: he and Warner allow space for emotive silences, most tellingly in letter scene. Pauses between scenes and acts suggest that while life hangs suspended, later everything will inevitably change. Sudden surges of rapturous orchestral outpouring are contained within controlled musical forms, as the repressed souls fleetingly give vent to romantic yearnings. Gardner’s attention to detail is masterly. Nothing is over-stated. Tchaikovsky’s score is not so interested in external worlds but in the characters’ inner development, just as in Chekhov’s plays the poetic power is hidden beneath surfaces, and so reveals the true depths of human experience.
Martin Pickard’s translation is rather mundane at times although he captures some of the original’s lyricism in the set pieces. Pushkin’s tale may be a fairly clichéd account of unrequited love, missed opportunities and the conflict between passion and convention, but it is a tale with which all can surely identify. If despair and hopelessness dominate, there is still radiance amid the torture. From quiet beginnings, Warner allows huge human passions to emerge. She simply lets the music tell its story.