Glyndebourne Onegin: a sight for sore eyes

Room in the Winter Palace St Petersburg, detail

Room in the Winter Palace St Petersburg, detail

By way of stark contrast from the harsh ‘realities’ of Manon Lescaut or the confused banalities of Maria Stuarda, Glyndebourne offered the restrained and sensitive beauties of its production of Eugene Onegin. It was a sight for sore eyes.

The production is 20 years old this year, debuting at Glyndebourne in 1994, and its muted colours, emphasis on character-driven drama and exuberant dance interludes wear well. For a restricted view seat holder (in the Upper Circle Slips) the emphasis on use of the sides and rear of the stage can be a little frustrating, but you pays your money and takes your chances to an extent. The graceful curtains that separate scenes and, in the final palace ballroom scene, create a subtly shifting and disjointed perspective, and effective. The simplicity of the rustic scenes are beautifully appropriate to their setting. The emphasis really is placed on the characters to push this relatively simple story forward, with the sets providing a straightforward context for the action.

With the focus on singers, attention of course turns first to the Tatyana of Ekaterina Scherbachenko. She was more effective as the restrained and calm princess of the final scene than the impetuous young girl of the early drama, but in a number of places she struggled to project vocally. In early scenes she was out-sung by the full-bodied vocal gloss of mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Sergeeva as Olga, although that suited the interplay between their characters, one reserved, the other impetuous, as Sergeeva excelled in portraying.

As Onegin, Andrei Bondarenko grew in stature as the opera went on, making a thoroughly convincing transition through polite new arrival, to his boredom-fuelled bad behaviour in the party scenes, the tragedy of the duel, and finally his broken spirit throughout his confrontation with the now Princess Tatyana. Edgaras Montvidas was Lensky, with a voice of interesting colours, sensitively deployed through his touching Kudà, kudà in act 2. Taras Shtonda plumbed, almost, the depths for Gremin’s pensive third act aria, and Irina Tchistjakova and Diana Montague set us on our way as Filipyevna and Madame Larina, the latter particularly fine.

In the pit, a storm of heart-on-sleeve emotion and propulsive dance rhythms were being whipped up by the energetic Omer Meir Wellber, to which the LPO responded with secure playing and crisp articulation. This being the last performance of the run, there was a touching gesture as Wellber brought onto stage a basket of flowers, which he handed out to the principals, the chorus (via the Chorus Master) and the orchestra, whose tribute he rained down upon them. They had played tremendously for him and, together with the elegant Graham Vick production, they set the foundation for an excellent evening of opera.

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A reigning monarch

Mary, Queen of Scots, after Cornelius and William Cure, plaster cast of head, (circa 1606-1616) [NPG Creative Commons]

Mary, Queen of Scots, after Cornelius and William Cure, plaster cast of head, (circa 1606-1616) [NPG Creative Commons]

The Royal Opera have assembled a wonderful cast for their performance of Maria Stuarda, but one performance reigned supreme: Joyce DiDonato as the titular Queen of Scots.

First, though, much has been said of the production by returning directorial pair Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser – and equally by those who would lambast the production and by those who would reserve their ire for the booers on the opening night, each in their own rather sanctimonious terms. At the risk of joining the former group, having been at both the opening night, and not having booed, as well as a second viewing, I’m afraid I don’t have much beef with those who did boo. It’s a messy, lazy, clumsy affair which, given how much time productions have lavished upon them for designed, prototyping, development and rehearsal, ought certainly to have been much, much better. Continue reading

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Tale of Two Puccinis

I’ve been behind on my jottings, and the performances to be reflected upon are mounting up. For a start, there are these two Puccinis, both from The Royal Opera: their recent outing of the Jonathan Kent Tosca and a new production, also by Jonathan Kent, of Manon Lescaut.

The Tosca is a well-known commodity: replacing the Zeffirelli, it was calculated not to frighten any horses and enjoys a similar visual grandeur and narrative simplicity. After a 30-odd year gap, Kent has brought back Manon Lescaut with decidedly less caution. He has attempted to bring to modern audiences some of the shock experienced by the first readers of the 1731 Abbé Prevost novel, and to do so, Kent and his design team have moved the action to a swanky three-storey hotel-cum-casino; this is followed by an Amsterdam-style glass-encased brothel; thereafter to the quayside for scenes of trafficked women; and ending on a motorway flyover as a contemporary vision of the ‘desert’ depicted in the original libretto. Continue reading

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Giddy Gilliam in Barmy Berlioz

benvenuto cellini firenze

Benvenuto Cellini bust on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence.

Terry Gilliam’s second foray into opera direction, again Berlioz, is if anything more successful than the first. I hadn’t known any of Berlioz’s 1838 opera Benvenuto Cellini, which tells the story of Cellini’s brush with both papal and paternal wrath in his simultaneous failure to cast a monumental statue of Perseus and his attempts to woo the daughter of a papal exchequer. The work seems sprawling, to put it mildly, and rambles along with rousing ensembles punctuated by less distinctive recitatives and short arias. Gilliam’s madcap treatment of the work would appear to meet its flaws head on in a spirit of riotous abandon. Continue reading

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ROH Carmélites

Notre Dame - praying figure and stained glassThe Royal Opera’s run of Dialogues des Carmélites came to a close last Thursday: I had seen the previous Saturday (5th) and the opening night. They were performances of remarkable power.

After the opening night, I had wanted to wait until I saw the later outing to capture my thoughts on the performances. However, even then I was at something of a loss as to reflect on their potency. After a rather ‘wordy’ – though fascinating – body to the opera, the measured tread and more expansive lyricism of the nuns’ closing Salve Regina renders it extraordinarily powerful. Continue reading

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Kavakos’s enthusiastic Beethoven

Following a rather slow day, having got back to London about midnight from Glyndebourne’s disappointing Rosenkavalier, the evening was given over to the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonidas Kavakos in an all-Beethoven programme at the Barbican. It was just the tonic. Continue reading

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Comedy, no heart, in Glyndebourne’s Rosenkavalier

That Ochs sustains his injury in act 2 by being stabbed in the arse by the stem of the silver rose tells you most of what you need to know about Richard Jones’s production of Der Rosenkavalier for Glyndebourne. Of course, you can picture most of the rest from the fact that it’s a Richard Jones production: a vaguely 50s/60s setting, garish lighting, a supporting cast of grotesques, sharply angular sets clad in vibrantly hideous wallpaper. Glyndebourne could restage Anna Nicole in these Rosenkavalier sets without any amendment. Continue reading

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