Eugene Onegin, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2011

This new production by Deborah Warner, a joint venture with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, goes for big spaces. In Act I a huge barn, in Act II a big hall for the party and broad winter scene for the duel, and in Act III vast pillars reaching upwards for the ballroom, and later outside the mansion for Tatyana’s final rejection of Onegin.

Carefree days: Tatyana and Olga, all images Neil Libbert

These spaces were filled with some excellent singing. Toby Spence as Lensky was so good, both vocally and in his stage presence, that he seemed to be the main character during the first two acts. Then in Act III, Brindley Sherratt sang an outstanding Prince Gremin — it doesn’t get any better than this. Adrian Thompson was a fine Monsieur Triquet, Claudia Huckle a delightful Olga, and Amanda Echalaz as Tatyana came good in the final scene after an uneven performance during the first two acts. As Onegin himself, Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen sang with feeling, but his stage presence was disappointing. Presumably the director wanted to portray him in a kindly light when he rejects Tatyana’s letter, but without the haughtiness early on it’s difficult to appreciate his comeuppance in Act III, and with his lack of insouciance at the party scene when he whisks Olga round the dance floor, it’s hard to appreciate why Lensky would lose his rag.

Lensky confronts Onegin

The party scene was delightful, with kids and kitchen staff joining in the fun — this is after all in the countryside — and the ball scene in Act III was stunning. Kim Brandstrup’s choreography, led by professional dancers, added a great sense of style to the occasion, and the lighting by Jean Kalman showed principal figures clearly at the front of the stage, while those towards the rear appeared as if in a slight mist — very clever.

Lensky and his second await Onegin

I liked the front-drops during the orchestral preludes, and found Tom Pye’s sets very effective. The barn in Act I served as the place where Tatyana wrote her letter, starting at a table but moving to the floor. Yet it was odd that she scribbled almost nothing — it’s an impulsive letter, but long, so this rendered the scene less effective.

Conducting by Edward Gardner brought to life what is Tchaikovsky’s most gripping opera, and the chorus were superb.

Tatyana, Gremin and Onegin

Altogether this is a wonderful new production by the ENO, and the visual effects were so good that the audience spontaneously applauded the ball scene as the curtain opened for Act III.

Performances continue until December 3 — for details click here.

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