Eugene Onegin

  • Music
  • Classical and opera
Critics' choice
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From Tatyana's histrionics during the overture, it's clear that director Kasper Holten is determined to fill all the dramatic space that Tchaikovsky has deliberately left in his romantic tragedy based on Pushkin's novel. It is a straightforward plot – naive girl falls for worldly man, he rejects her, kills his former friend in a duel and regrets it all. Here, however, it is overladen with symbolism. Not least the interpolation of two new characters – the non-speaking younger selves of Tatyana and Onegin. Such a device might have worked had it been consistent, ie, the older singing future ghosts ruefully observing their mute younger selves throughout enacting their mistakes. But, confusingly, Tatyana and her youth (a nimble Vigdis Hentze Olsen) anguish over her initial love and both write the fateful letter to Onegin; while her desired lover's youth (Thom Rackett) doesn't turn up until the duel.

The baritone Simon Keenlyside was on good form as Onegin. A versatile actor and dancer, the presence of a superfluous alter-ego merely gives the false impression that he isn't capable of playing young and old. As Tatyana, Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova makes solid casting, her voice full and acting understated. Other supporting roles were impressive – the Russian contralto Elena Maximova clearly most at home in her mother tongue; and British bass Peter Rose cuts a dignified Prince Gremin.

That this is an opera about regret is laid on with a trowel – once shot, the felled Lensky (subdued Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik), having dragged a naked branch on stage to symbolise winter, is made to lie dead for the entire second half, rendering the staging as borderline comical.

In the pit, young conductor Robin Ticciati is rather heavy-handed with the normally superb ROH orchestra – the waltzes lacking lightness and grace; the conclusion of Tatyana's 'Letter Aria', ugly and overloud. In keeping with the production's insistent theme, overall, there is much to regret.

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