Paul Guest reviews English National Opera’s Eugene Onegin at the London Coliseum
It seemed clear from the first act that Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for English National Opera (ENO) was to be a rather traditional contribution to the repertory. Perhaps my expectations had been for something a little more than what I saw; despite some beautiful set-per-scene designs, this Onegin was disappointingly plain, and felt like a safe bet.
Making his ENO debut, Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen – as Onegin – was somewhat weak, especially considering Toby Spence (pictured)’s resplendent portrayal of Lensky, who was simply immaculate from raging jealously to the delicately treated aria of Act Two. On the pair’s first entry to the farmhouse in the Russian countryside, Spence completely outshone Iversen, whose Onegin was more like an arrogant and spoilt schoolboy than the utter tyrant of Pushkin’s writing – though he did seem to settle rather nicely into the ‘fallen man’ of Act Three.
A further challenge to Iversen came in Act Three, however, in the form of Brindley Sherratt, who, as Prince Gremlin, stole the scene in which he sings his devotion to the now-princess Tatyana. This was, in a word, sublime.
Soprano Amanda Echalaz sang Tatyana with dramatic consciousness and, though it seemed to take her a while before she was comfortable in her higher register, her awkward nature and nervousness presented a wonderfully frantic letter scene during Act One.
With additional members, the chorus teemed with vocal strength and, as ever, put on an impressive show. Edward Gardner, in the pit, revelled in this score of plush velvet. At moments during Act One, I thought I spotted some heavy pizzicato during the more tender vocal moments – but overall, the orchestra flourished in this immensely lyrical Tchaikovsky masterpiece.
The production took me back to last season’s Lucrezia Borgia directed by Mike Figgis, where the singers moved very little, standing and singing in costume, and I felt that that static nature returned here. I am still reflecting on whether this was Warner’s way of presenting an unpretentious production – by portraying a greater sense of reality – but I’m not convinced.
This not-intense-enough Onegin let the drama of Pushkin’s text slip through the net; though I reckon the production has a chance to settle yet.
Eugene Onegin is at the London Coliseum until 3 December:
18 November (7pm)
20 November (3pm)
23 November (7pm)
25 November (7pm)
29 November (7pm)
3 December (6pm)
Photo © Neil Libbert