Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alexander Pushkin by Orest Kiprensky
04 Jun 2016

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Alexander Pushkin by Orest Kiprensky

 

This turned out to be the new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin which opened the 2016 Garsington Opera season at Wormsley on 3 June 2016. It was an evening full of anticipation, because the casting included two interesting role debutants with Roderick Williams as Onegin, and Natalya Romaniw as Tatyana, plus Jurgita Adamonyté, Louise Winter, Kathleen Wilkinson, Oleksiy Palchykov, Mark Wilde, and Brindley Sherratt, with Douglas Boyd (Garsington’s artistic director) conducting the Garsington Opera Orchestra. The designs were by Tom Piper, with Liz Ranken as movement director/choreographer and Lina Johansson as acrobatic choreographer.


Michael Boyd’s production was firmly set in the era of Pushkin’s story; Tom Piper’s costumes were authentically early 19th century (the story was written 1825 to 1833). The production was one where hats, gloves and manners were highly important, something which can get forgotten when thinking just about Tchaikovsky’s seethingly dramatic music, but Michael Boyd rightly put the inner emotions in the context of a culture of outward control, going on to explore what happens when this control breaks. But, perhaps the most important thing to say about the production was the way it used communal dance as an important factor. The cotillon at Madame Larina’s dance was a real communal moment with everyone taking part: dancers, chorus and the older supers (Community Actors). Similarly the Polonaise at Prince Gremin’s ball was real communal moment (albeit in a different, grander style).

Not that things were slavishly naturalistic, Piper’s sets consisted simply of five mobile units which were moved around to form a single backdrop, or to enclose a smaller space. For the first half (Act One, and Act Two, Scene One) we simply saw plain wooden tongue- and groove cladding and doors, evoking the simplicity of Madame Larina’s house, for the duel scene, the rear of the units was on display giving a starkly abstract wooden construction as backdrop, whilst for Prince Gremin’s palace we simply had huge mirrors, echoing the image of constantly being on show and the sense of Onegin’s constant looking over his past.

Similarly the production style moved in and out of naturalism, with Natalya Romaniw’s Tatyana mounting the scenery to overlook proceedings (something repeated in the final scene of the opera when ball-goers did the same), the way Lensky (at Madame Larina’s) and Tatyana (at Prince Gremin’s ball) were singled out as stationary objects at the centre of the dance, the handling of the chorus in the ball scene where they became threatening onlookers. The scene after Tatyana’s letter scene saw the female chorus interacting with Tatyana almost as an extension of her thoughts, as they dressed her for the encounter with Onegin. And in the climactic final scene, the chorus broke through the walls of the room to threaten Onegin. Much of the movement of the scenery and props was done by the cast themselves, and Kathleen Wilkinson’s Filippyevna brought a real sense of character to the way she fetched and carried.

Roderick Williams was a remarkable assumption. The singer turned 50 last year, and this might seem a little late to take on Onegin but he gave no sense of this. It was a thoughtful performance, one completely in tune with the way Michael Boyd emphasised the restrictions of manners and arranged marriages on the characters. This wasn’t the most arrogant of Onegins, or the most self-absorbed, instead it was a very human performance. For the first half of the opera we see Onegin very much through Tatyana’s eyes, and here Williams was all correct politeness, with a feeling of someone finding it easier to hide behind the facade of manners. Even in their encounter after the letter scene, it was the correct politeness with which Williams’ Onegin treated Romaniw’s passionate yet naive Tatyana that shocked, complete with details such as him leaning down to check (very politely) that Tatyana had understood.

But when the break came, at the end of Madame Larina’s party, it was devastating as the icy control snapped. After the powerful and chilling duel scene, Michael Boyd introduced a real coup de theatre. During the opening section of the polonaise we saw Onegin’s travels, but always he was accompanied by the ghost of Lensky, with Oleksy Palchykov even donning dress and wig to dance with Onegin at Prince Gremin’s ball. Rarely has the combination of director and singer made Onegin’s opening solo at the ball, sung directly to the audience (the first time we really hear his thoughts) count for so much.

Natalya Romaniw created a strikingly thoughtful Tatyana, one who clearly withdrew from society and whose calm exterior masked the emotions inside. Romaniw had mastered the art of doing less on stage, but doing to highly expressively so that little counted for much, and she has a very speaking countenance where every emotion flickered across her face. She has a wonderful lyrical dramatic voice, one that is probably going to grow, and brought a real sense of vibrant passion to Tatyana. Her performances in both time periods (there is a gap of six years between Acts One and Two and Act Three), were linked by this sense of groundedness with the older Tatyana simply losing some of the naivety of the younger. This was an enormously sympathetic, almost ensemble performance, but one where you constantly felt Tatyana’s presence, whether singing or not, without ever pulling focus. The letter scene was superbly sung, and brilliantly conceived with a great feel for the architecture. That Romaniw does not, yet, quite pull the heart strings to the ultimate is no worry, this was a performance that can only grow and remarkably mature assumption for this young artist.

I have to confess that when I heard him in Act One, I rather worried about the way Oleksiy Palchykov seemed to push his voice to hardness in the upper register, and rarely seemed to relax as an actor. But Michael Boyd cunning used this stiffness, so that in the party at Madame Larina’s Palchykov’s Lensky wasn’t the puppyish poet, but seemed to stiffen with resentment and jealously until breaking point. His account of the duel scene fairly crackled, and in his solo he showed himself to be a superbly thoughtful artist, and I particularly loved the way he was able to thin his voice right down. The final duet with Roderick Williams was everything you might expect, stiff, rigid and uptight yet shot through with intense regret and emotion.

Jurgita Adamonyté made a lively, carefree Olga, and one who formed a lovely foil to Natalya Romaniw, with the two making a superbly balanced and complementary duet.

Louise Winter’s Madame Larina was very much the lynch-pin of the first half. She was clearly channelling Imelda Staunton in a big way, bringing that actor’s wonderful sense of comedy and pathos to a woman who was clearly inhabiting the rules as a last resort against chaos, with a fussily busy manner which was at once funny and sad. Winter made you understand the rigid obsession with manner, and the way it made the dramatic events almost inevitable as something has to crack. Equally important was Kathleen Wilkinson’s Filippyevna, her body language making clear her years of devotion and service. This was clearly not a rich household, Filippyevna spent quite a lot of time moving just a few chairs around for those she served, and the jam making was a very humble affair with Filippyevna calmly peeling apples.

Brindley Sherratt brought great sympathy and great resonance to his solo as Prince Gremin. There were no novelties, and no shocks, simply a superbly musical performance done in the context of a very fine dramatic performance.

The smaller roles were all strongly taken. Mark Wilde was hilarious as the pompous Monsieur Triquet, and I loved the way the chorus stood behind him, laughing at him and echoing his gestures. Adam Temple-Smith was a peasant, Martin Häßler was a Captain, Andrew Tipple was Zaretsky and Adam Torrance was Guillot.

The production took full advantage of the young and talented chorus, who had a great deal to do besides just sing. They effectively created separate characters, with a great deal of both communal dancing and more general movement. They both looked and sounded good, a testament to the hard work and preparation for the season.

I have to confess that I was less convinced by the choreography for the dancers. The acrobatic vignettes, during Onegin’s journeys between scenes one and two in Act three, were highly effective, but elsewhere the choreography for the six dancers was simply too fussy for my taste.

The orchestra under Douglas Boyd made gave a wonderfully lyrical account of the score. Lithe and passionate, the performance was beautifully fluid but focussed and controlled, so that under Douglas Boyd’s disciplined hands the passion was there but the orchestra never came anywhere near overwhelming the singers.

This was a superb season opener, and a demonstration of how Garsington Opera has moved on from being an outstanding specialist in a couple of composers, into a house where immensely thoughtful highly crafted work is being done in all areas. This season there is Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri, Mozart’s Idomeneo and Haydn’s The Creation to look forward to, with the prospect of Handel’s Semele and Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande next year.

There is also a chance to hear and see the production of Eugene Onegin outside of Garsington, as the production will be screened in rural coastal areas including Skegness, Ramsgate, Burnham-on-sea, Grimsby, see www.operaforall.org for full details.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production details:

Director: Michael Boyd, conductor: Douglas Boyd, designer: Tom Piper, movement director/choreographer: Liz Rankin, acrobatic choreographer: Lina Johannsen.

Onegin: Roderick Williams, Tatyana: Natalya Romaniw, Olga: Jurgita Adamonyte, Madame Larina: Louise Winter, Filippeyevna: Kathleen Wilkinson, Peasant: Adam Temple-Smith, Lensky: Oleksiy Palchykov, Captain: Martin Häßler, Monsieur Triquet: Mark Wide, Zaretsky: Andrew Tipple, Guillot: Adam Torrance, Prince Gremin: Brindley Sherratt

Garsington Opera at Wormsley, 3 June 2016

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):