Hilary Reid Evans

Where did all the passion go?
Eugene Onegin, Glyndebourne, Sunday 29 June 2014

It is inevitably tempting to compare a revival with the original - in this case Graham Vick's Eugene Onegin, which premiered at Glyndebourne in 1994. A revival production is so often the company's way of cost cutting, a cheap option to pad out the season. In this case however the revival at least equals the original, thanks to the director's recognition this is an opera that is anything but the simple student piece it is sometimes mistaken for. Based on the eponymous novel by Pushkin, who died of a duelling wound, and translated into opera form by Tchaikovsky, whose homosexuality led to agonizing struggles with conformism and social mores, the work is unsurprisingly laden with emotional complexity, moral ambiguity and acute social commentary.

At the heart of the tale lies Tatayana's youthful infatuation with the older roué Onegin. Ekaterina Scherbachenko's interpretation of Tatayana beautifully captures the character's growth towards maturity, yet somehow along the way all passion seems lost. Onegin (Andrei Bondarenko) is foppishly arrogant. What possible attraction might this podgy character with the bouffant hairstyle have for the idealistic and innocent Tatayana? Love may be blind, but one does think longingly of Simon Keenlyside's Onegin in last year's underrated Royal Opera House production!

In the final scene Vick's production fails to strike a note of credibility. There is no sense that Tatayana might grieve for a true love lost. Or that Onegin might have recognized and finally valued truth and virtue, more a sense he is a spoilt child deprived of his intended treat. Perhaps part of the problem was that, certainly on the night of this performance, Bondarenko's voice failed to project, whether due to tiredness, the scene's mid-stage staging or the volume of the orchestra I cannot judge.

A propos of the orchestra, seldom have I heard such controlled and passionate playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the dynamic Omer Meir Welber. Welber seemed totally, completely and utterly involved with the music, indeed one felt he acted every scene. The huge round of applause that accompanied his curtain call was richly deserved. Reprising her Opera House role, Diana Mongague (Madame Larina) glided serenely over the troubled waters of her daughters' angst. Taras Shtonda's Prince Gremin was solemn and stately, yet one remained unconvinced by his confessions of love for Tatayana. Edgaras Montvidas provided us with a somewhat lanky Lensky, his pre-duel aria sung convincingly and with beautifully judged emotion.

Sometimes dismissed as 'an easy sing', Tchaikovsky's music is subtly nuanced. Taking its cues from the simple folk airs of the first act and building to the wonderful polonaises of the last, Vick's production wittily guides us through early 19th century Russian society, from the rich, bored, drunken swains to their fainting, affected felines. Vick keeps us entertained, if not always emotionally engaged.

© 2011-2014 - The Music Club of London