When [Tchaikovsky] smiles, it's a pale smile. Edward Gardner, Music Director, ENOLike Verdi's Don Carlos, Eugene Onegin is a fine opera: an abundance of melody, ripe for good singing and bound with high drama throughout. Also like Don Carlos the heat of the romance comes early and briefly. The descent is long and chilling. Here's what the conductor and cast have to say about their new production for ENO:
This is a curious new production for ENO of this strong, core work of the repertory. Deborah Warner mounts the piece with minimal fuss, traditionally/literally staged and without the capricious subtext-teasing that is ubiquitous and mandatory in so much contemporary operatic production. Yet for all that this is a commendably hands-off approach, there's perhaps too little direction. Dancers and actors are clearly undertaking the task of a chorus shunted en bloc between back and mid stage and the principals don't appear to have had an editing hand in the formative rehearsal ideas that have remained in the final cut, as it were.
Perhaps this has its benefits as it allows the singers to concentrate on singing the music without obstruction. Audun Iversen looks the part and is comfortable singing it although his Eugene is often as pale as Tchaikovsky's smile. It might be something to do with his neutral-vowel command of English. This is not an issue for Amanda Echalaz who manages to be affecting inbetween looking both stunned at her own consumption in love and the catastrophe of it being unrequited. This latter scene may be one of the most obscene in music, gentle, melodious, the poison of rejection delivered by intravenous drip rather than the gun of Act 2. The explosiveness - the drama and fully-formed expressions of youthful love and its consequences happily fall to an in-form Toby Spence, ably partnered by Claudia Huckle's Olga.
For something more substantial from the production there is the arresting penultimate scene - also resonant of Don Carlos - in which Prince Gremin presents Tatyana, now his wife. Brindley Sherratt manages the tricky blend of good grace - love but awareness of having taken the much-younger Tatyana from the promises and possibilities of youth, in a set-piece aria as good as anything else that comes before. And whilst I'm on the low voices I might also mention the beautiful quality of David Stout's Zaretski, a perfect assumption of an operatic bit-part: it just made one want to hear more. I also liked the design decision to keep the silvery mirrored floor first seen as the glacial woodland grove in which the friends fight as the brilliant-but-cold floor of the urban rooms of state.