For many people, this Graham Vick production is “the” Eugene Onegin, and it is certainly one of Glyndebourne’s classic stagings, so it’s easy to see why it was revived in this 80th anniversary year. It’s everything that those who are lofty and sniffy about this style of opera production, most love to hate – it’s true to Pushkin’s poem, it focuses on interaction between characters rather than giving them irrelevant and intrusive things to do, it’s beautiful to look at, it makes interesting people out of minor supernumeraries, and it’s cast with singers who are completely right for it.
The two sisters were vividly characterized by Ekaterina Scherbachenko and Ekaterina Sergeeva, the former as a deeply melancholy, rather than merely pensive Tatyana – and the latter exactly as Pushkin describes her, a vain coquette who might appear in any novel. Sergeeva provided confident, beautifully phrased singing – it’s a gift of a role, of course, but this Glyndebourne debutant is sure to be invited back on the strength of it. Scherbachenko is a known quantity here, and her steely, always focused tone and idiomatic phrasing lived up to expectations; you sometimes want to shake a Tatyana, but this one convinced you of the depth of her misguided passion. In her conflicted role as Princess Gremina, distant from Onegin yet drawn to him, she revealed, as Pushkin described Tatyana, the girl who is “…to her heart’s core a Russian / Herself not knowing the reason why.”
Andrei Bondarenko is perfect for the role of Onegin, and despite a touch of first night nerves which rendered one or two phrases indistinct, he presents Onegin as one dreams of hearing and seeing him – here is the bored, listless dandy, quite insouciant about the simply ghastly necessity of visiting the sick or existing anywhere out of town – the Vronsky figure to the life, and singing for the most part with such allure as to make clear why such a ripe and ready girl as Tatyana would fall so helplessly in love. No nerves at all on show for Edgaras Montvidas, the audience’s favourite as Lensky, the Shelleyan Romantic poet to his fingertips, making complete sense of the quarrel and singing with persuasive, liquid tone, especially in ‘Vashem Dome.’
Taras Shtonda has a warm, burnished bass voice and he clearly relished his one aria; Francois Piolino was a light-toned, elegant Triquet. The smaller parts gave plenty of opportunity for rich characterization, from Diana Montague’s now-definitive Madame Larina and Irina Tchistjakova’s brusquely sympathetic Nanny right down to the “…grizzled sages / with broods of children of all ages” at the dance. Those dances were superbly done, that at the Larin house full of vibrant life and fun, and the Ball in St Petersburg a vision of muted beauty and ironic panache; those foppish gentilshommes seem to have become even more delectably fluttery this time around.
Omer Meir Wellber was making his UK and Glyndebourne debut in the pit, and he gave a lively, rousing interpretation of the music, at times rushing through a few parts which could have been more subtly phrased. The LPO played fervently for him, giving him all he asked for – no mean feat at times. Richard Hudson’s light-filled designs, Ron Howell’s masterly choreography and Jeremy Bines’ superb management of the chorus, make up a most appealing whole. If you’ve never seen this opera, this production is the perfect first-time one – indeed, it’s the ideal introduction to opera in general.