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.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
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.