Opera Holland Park, London: 21, 23, 25, 27, 29 July; 2, 4, 6 August
At one time, the opera in Holland Park was a modest affair, not least from
an artistic point of view. However, in the last few years standards have
risen, as last year's Luisa Miller showed. The City of London
Sinfonia is now the resident orchestra, the chorus is excellent, and a
mixture of recognisable names and talented young singers are employed for
the lead roles.
This combination of factors made for a more than acceptable
performance of Tchaikovsky's most popular opera, Yevgeny Onegin, in a
new production for the company, which I believe they are singing in Russian
for the first time after an English-language version in the late '90s.
The opera has at its centre a Mr Darcy character, Onegin, who rejects the
love of Tatyana when she is a young girl, only to beg (unsuccessfully) for
her love when she has become a glamorous princess in the final act. Onegin's
eternal boredom, his wasted intelligence and constant cynicism provide the
ingredients for one of opera's most rounded characters, brilliantly realised
in Tchaikovsky's score. Even more brilliant is the portrayal of Tatyana,
whose emotional turmoil is conveyed in the taxing twenty-minute Letter
Stuart Stratford's conducting was perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this
performance, leading the orchestra in a remarkably vivid account of both the
intimate scenes and the big choral numbers. Both the big dances were given
spirited renditions, despite weedy choreography (not helped by limited stage
space). The waltz at the end of Act II, Scene II was especially successful,
with Lensky's tortured cry for a duel with Onegin (who has been flirting
with Lensky's girlfriend) exploding through the merriment in a moment of
The soloists were of mixed quality, though none was distractingly bad.
Tatyana was played by Camilla Roberts, and though she matured for the final
scene, her acting was too bland in the early scenes. She is meant to be a
young girl, a passionate reader who is disturbed at her intense feelings on
meeting Onegin, and this was never conveyed. However, her singing was well
controlled (although that was also bland at times), she had a secure top,
and her last cry of farewell to Onegin was blood curdling.
Mark Stone's Onegin was enjoyable but sometimes uneven. His singing was
aristocratic enough, but seemed forced before he had warmed up. (It should
be said that the cold and wet weather can hardly have helped any of the
singers.) However, he was emotionally engaging where his Tatyana was not,
and if he resorted to histrionics in the last scene, well, that seems in
line with the composer's treatment of the tale.
The most impressive singers were the second pair of lovers, particularly
Peter Wedd as Lensky, Onegin's friend who is killed in their duel. His aria
was breathtakingly sung with full tone and real empathy for the character's
melancholy before his death. Olga, Tatyana's sister and Lensky's lover, was
played by Victoria Simmonds, stunning in both looks and voice.
Smaller roles provided the most jarring singing, especially Graeme
Broadbent's sagging Prince Gremin (whom Tatyana marries); his famous aria
slowed almost to a standstill, so weary was its execution. Scarcely better
was Tyrone Landau's Triquet, though his acting was suitably comic. However
Sarah Pring was brilliant as Madame Larina, Tatyana's mother, one of the few
full-blooded voices in the cast. And brava to Menai Davies as Tatyana's aged
nurse, a scene-stealing cameo.
Director Tom Hawkes takes a conventional but reasonably entertaining view of
the work, and the designer Peter Rice has dreamed up economical but
evocative sets. It's well worth taking the opportunity to catch one of the
remaining performances of this sturdy and occasionally gripping show.