It is often said that this opera could, perhaps should, be called Tatyana rather than Onegin as she is in many ways the more central (and interesting) of the characters. It is both a strength and weakness of Julia Burbach’s direction that the title character is not only on stage far more than the opera dictates, making him more the key figure, but is given an energetic and at times wild reading by Samuel Dale Johnson. The weakness is – well, it just isn’t in the Onegin of Tchaikovsky’s opera.
As Tatyana, Anush Hovhannisyan captured the transformation of the innocent, unsophisticated but full of deep passion country girl to the controlled, sophisticated woman who still harbours supressed ardour. The portrayal of the bookish romantic contrasts well with the playful and rather silly Olga sung by Emma Stannard. Hovhannisyan is at her best in the final scenes as the little older and wiser woman.
Tatyana’s would-be hero lover Onegin, however, may well be the suave and sophisticated subject of her childlike amour at the start of the opera, yet he is quickly shown as troubled, broken and insecure way before his world travels leave him filled with ennui – and then regret that he had rejected Tatyana. This more filled-out (and imagined) characterisation is delivered with panache by Johnson.
Burbach’s take on the work, delving into characters and creating psychological portraits, do make us wonder why Onegin is seen in a doorway at the start of the opera and then appears in the gorgeous bedroom scene were the innocent Tatyana crafts her heartfelt letter pouring out all of her emotions to him. Similarly, Onegin is on stage, keeping out of sight of Lensky as he prepares for the fatal duel. For that matter, who fires the shot that kills him as Onegin doesn’t? Lensky is all you could hope for from the elegantly voiced tenor of Thomas Atkins. Through whose brain are we seeing these made-up episodes for Onegin? The dead Lensky appears as some sort of ghost presumably in Onegin’s troubled brain.
One of the many special pleasures of opera at Holland Park is how a director can have the characters come down to the apron that surrounds the City of London Sinfonia, sumptuously conducted by Lada Valešová, and are just feet away from the audience.
When on the “main stage” the characters (and delightfully sung chorus) manoeuvre around a simple and effective set that forms the country house and also St Petersburg palace for the denouement. The players in the tale include well-delivered roles from Amanda Roocroft and Kathleen Wilkinson as Madame Larina and Filippyevna. Matthew Stiff sang a fine Prince Gremin particularly as he had to cope with Onegin wandering off halfway through his set-piece aria to throw himself at the feet of Tatyana.
The sound of evening birdsong and what sounded like cries of peacocks added to the enjoyment of a summer evening’s opera performance in a London park.
To June 25, operahollandpark.com
Main image: Samuel Dale Johnson
Images by Alastair Muir
Until June 25. operahollandpark.com