Opera + Classical Music Features

Spotlight: Eugene Onegin @ Glyndebourne

Eugene Onegin

© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd (Photo: Mike Hoban for The Hoban Gravett Archive

Not one, but two hot young conductors will direct the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the much-anticipated first weekend of Glyndebourne’s 80th anniversary season: Robin Ticciati conducts a new Der Rosenkavalier on Saturday 17th, whilst on Sunday 18th, Graham Vick’s beautiful, refined production of Eugene Onegin will be conducted by Omer Meir Wellber, the exciting young Israeli whose career trajectory so far can fairly be described as meteoric.

Wellber’s take on Tchaikovsky’s much-loved work promises a fascinating reading; “The message of this opera is very modern. Everything that happens unfolds in front of other people… People are not quite free to say what they really mean as the judgment of society is determinant. When you start to read the opera in those terms, you begin to see its musical characteristics in a different light.” It remains to be seen if his interpretation will have the same effect on critics as his Tosca at La Scala, which had many – but not all -reaching for the superlatives.

Wellber loves Vick’s production, and he is not unusual in that: when it was first seen in 1994, the New York Times called it “…precisely the kind of staging and performance that made Glyndebourne’s worldwide reputation.” It’s the model of a classically restrained reading in which violent passions simmer beneath a delicate, gauzy surface, and the distances between the characters are finely suggested in Richard Hudson’s muted designs and Matthew Richardson’s limpid lighting.

Onegin is arguably the greatest of all Russian operas, and if you don’t know the story, it’s even more romantic and melancholy than anything in Italian opera: the heroine, Tatyana, is rejected by the arrogant Onegin, who many years later re-encounters her when she has married a pillar of St Petersburg society. Tchaikovsky wrote that he had so familiarised himself with the figure of Tatyana that she had “become for me a living person,” and this intensity in terms of the composer’s attachment to his heroine is expressed most vividly in the famous ‘Letter Scene’ where the romantic young girl pours out her love for the older man, only to be scorned by him.

The authentic quality of this production is enhanced by two Russians and one Ukrainian amongst the major roles: the soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko (winner of the 2009 Cardiff ‘Singer of the World’) as Tatyana, the baritone Andrei Bondarenko as Onegin, and the mezzo Ekaterina Sergeeva as Olga. Edgaras Montvidas sings Olga’s beloved, the doomed poet Lensky, and among the smaller parts Diana Montague’s Madame Larina should prove ideal casting.

Despite its reputation as the home of expensive, exclusive opera, Glyndebourne in reality can be enjoyed for much less than you’d think, especially if you’re canny enough to join the (free) Returns Club. At the time of writing, there are seats for Eugene Onegin from £50, with more at £95 and £110; expensive, yes, and comparable with the Royal Opera – but at Glyndebourne you’re not just getting a seat for a beautiful, finely sung production – you’re also getting privileged access to one of the most beautiful gardens and one of the most glorious views in England – and you can arrive several hours before curtain up to enjoy it all to the full.

Further information on Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2014 season can be found here.

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