Glorious weather for this second performance of Garsington’s take one of the most-loved of all operas, so it seemed a shame that Michael Boyd’s production and Tom Piper’s designs did not make anything of the ‘secluded garden’ outside, especially for the scene where that phrase is used. The planks of wood representing the Larin home did evoke the cedar houses of the Russian countryside, and the glass ‘reverse’ for the ball scene worked well, but it was a shame to deprive the Larins of any furniture save the dining chairs which poor old Nanny laboriously carried on and off.
Natalya Romaniw’s Tatyana was eagerly anticipated, and her singing gave much pleasure. Her voice and person are exactly matched: both are beautiful, steady and grave, and all are consistent throughout, so that there seems to be no development from the ardent, over-romantic country girl to the dignified queen of St Petersburg society. Roderick Williams’ Onegin was remarkably similar in style, both vocally and in person: handsome, with patrician bearing, suave manner and every movement breathing elegance, the voice beautifully cultivated, finely phrased and yet lacking the fervour of a man who has lost his dream through his own arrogance and now has to face an empty life. Perhaps the director wanted us to feel that Tatyana’s taunt about Onegin being mainly impressed by her position in society, was truer than the music would seem to suggest.
Oleksiy Palchykov was a sweetly lyrical Lensky, conveying his character’s lovable qualities even though he was subdued by the orchestra at one or two points: his death was one of the most impressive we’ve seen (lying utterly motionless after the shot) but we wished he’d stayed that way instead of having to don a blonde wig and dance with Onegin at the ball. Yes, yes, we get it, the cad is haunted by what he did to his beloved friend, but we don’t need it signalled to us. Jurgita Adamonyté was a vibrant Olga, singing with clarity and almost succeeding in not being annoying; she and her mother, the excellent Louise Winter, actually looked alike and for once you could see where Olga got her spirits from – it was like watching Mrs Bennett and Lydia.
Mark Wilde’s Triquet was one of the best we’ve heard, his acting as splendidly oleaginous as his singing was mellifluous, and Brindley Sherratt did what every Gremin should, which is make you think that his is the best aria in the opera whilst having you surreptitiously fiddling about in your reticule for that hanky you didn’t think you’d need. What a shame that he and Onegin were about three metres apart from each other whilst he was singing it. Kathleen Wilkinson made the most of Filippyevna, her story told to her ‘dove’ about her early marriage and going to live amongst strangers, the moving interlude it ought to be.
Every performance by the Garsington Chorus has one marvelling anew at the versatility, adaptability and just sheer excellence of this group: their Russian diction was superb, and they made a lusty bunch of peasants even if they appeared to have been costumed out of Urban outfitters’ Boho ranges. Costumes in general were beautiful; one doesn’t often want to wear almost everything at the ball, but here pretty much every dress was covetable.
Douglas Boyd once again obtained wonderful playing from the Garsington orchestra, the ‘cellos and bassoons in particular producing the most glorious sounds. At times – the Letter scene springs to mind – the playing provided the ardour which was not so strongly supplied on the stage.
Dance is very important in this opera, and we’re certain that many will have loved the movement here, but we felt that there were too many moments when the music required one style and we were seeing another – we’re not sure what was going on during the Polonaise. It was like the production itself – you wondered why certain things were done, but you still appreciated such beauty and stylishness as was on offer.