Review: A focus on the relationships at very heart of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin at White Rock Theatre presented by Opera South  East SUS-180423-152423001
Eugene Onegin at White Rock Theatre presented by Opera South East SUS-180423-152423001

The contrast between intimate encounters and public celebrations was well caught in Fraser Grant’s production of Eugene Onegin for Opera South East.

Eschewing large scale sets or naturalistic lighting he focussed on the key relationships at the heart of the narrative. This puts a much higher level of responsibility on the soloists who were vocally up to the challenge even if the nuances of their relationships did not always flower. Kristy Swift’s Tatiana was at her best in the earlier acts, the letter scene being particularly impressive in its emotional outpouring and gauche naivety. She showed more maturity in act two but the final scene proved problematic. Seven years have passed and she is now married into the aristocracy, but when she meets Onegin again she goes to pieces rather than drawing on the strength she has acquired over the intervening years.

Rene Bloice-Sanders was a fine Onegin, a remote aristocrat in the early scenes and gentler than is sometimes the case with the gushing Tatiana. The death of Lenski is the point of no return and in the final scene his constant physical assault on Tatiana was uncomfortable to watch.

Though Jonathan Cooke sang Lenski with authority he does not have an obvious Lenski voice and at times the sound was tight and forced. This was dramatically interesting but not the smooth legato the music seems to call for.

Smaller parts were cast very much from strength with Felicity Buckland a splendidly vibrant Olga, Karen McInally a beautifully characterised nurse and Jack Naismith a cleanly articulated Zaretski. The company was also lucky to have David Woloszko as a magnificent Gremin.

Opera South East does have a problem with its chorus – not with the sound so much as with the balance. Having so few men made all of the choral scenes one sided. This was not so much of a problem with the peasants in the opening act but meant that the dancing for Tatiana’s party never really happened and the final ball was changed into a solo ballerina.

The orchestra under Kenneth Roberts were on good form, with some strong solo work. It was particularly interesting to note the occasional harp and similar added effects from Nigel Howard. By Brian Hick.