Seen at Theatre Royal, Glasgow,
Touring until June 30
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin (based upon the verse novel by Pushkin) reflects powerfully the stultifying atmosphere of Czarist Russia. The piece tells the tale of the eponymous, degenerate heir to a country estate and of the young woman, Tatyana Larina, who falls in love with him.
Bored by the endless soirees that constituted his life in St Petersburg, Onegin arrives in the country, the seeming image of metropolitan sophistication. His excessive self-regard is given remarkable expression early in director Oliver Mears’s excellent production when Onegin rides an enormous horse through a set of French windows and into the sitting room of the Larina household.
This, and every other action in the opera, is overseen by Tatyana in old age. Returning to her former home, now a picture of decayed grandeur and dereliction, the elderly woman envisions the tragic events that began with Onegin brutally rejecting her as a lovelorn 17-year-old (and, indeed, cynically lecturing her on self-restraint).
The production’s bleak, carefully illuminated vision is realised beautifully by stage designer Annemarie Woods and lighting designer Fabiana Piccioli. Contrasting powerfully with the opulence and emotion of Tchaikovsky’s music, it provides the perfect frame for Pushkin’s story.
Australian baritone Samuel Dale Johnson gives a superb performance in the title role. Whether he is the strutting playboy who callously sets his best friend, Vladimir Lensky, on the road to destruction, or the man who returns, years later, broken and regretful, Johnson is the very embodiment of Pushkin’s dubious romantic hero.
Soprano Natalya Romaniw (who hails from Swansea, but is of Ukrainian heritage) is similarly affecting as Tatyana, both as a heartbroken teenager and, later, a resolute aristocrat. Her singing in the famous letter scene, in particular, exemplifies a production which is as strong on emotion as it is on narrative.
For tour details, visit: scottishopera.org.uk
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 6, 2018
© Mark Brown