Eugene Onegin – AAC Presents Opera For All (26 October)

Tchaikovsky
Eugene Onegin (sung in English)

Tatyana – Ruth Kerr
Eugene Onegin – Martin Muir
Vladimir Lensky – Paul Koelbloed
Olga – Ruth Trawford
Madame Larina – Adrienne Walters
Filipyevna – Sylvia Park
Prince Gremin – Lance Ritchie
Captain Zaretsky – Wojtek Mrzowski
Monsieur Triquet – Martin Chapple

Opera for All Chorus and Orchestra
Derek Carden

Claudio Tedesco – director/lighting design
Arlene Conway – producer


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 26 October, 2003
Venue: Sir Richard Eyre Theatre, College of North-West London, Dudden Hill Lane, Willesden

Live classical music isn’t as frequent an occurrence in north-west London as it once was, but Opera for All has been presenting a range of operas in NW10 – standard repertoire and otherwise – for almost 13 years – and, on the basis of its latest production, to a high standard of performance.

To describe this Eugene Onegin as ’heavily cut’ would be unfair – firstly to the sensitivity with which most of the choral music had been pared down, and secondly to the nature of the work itself. Like Aida, Onegin is essentially an intimate depiction of character – given presence, but not necessarily substance, by its crowd scenes. Focussing on the antagonisms that pervade the opera ensures the music loses nothing in impact, a quality enhanced by the sympathetic venue of the Sir Richard Eyre Theatre.

For those attending performances on alternate evenings, the opportunity to hear two separate casts will have been instructive. That on Sunday the 26th was certainly a strong one – above all, in the Tatyana of Ruth Kerr. Looking every inch the reticent debutante, she conveyed the right combination of excitement and apprehension at her first meeting with Onegin, and brought a sustained but unforced eloquence to the ’Letter Scene’ – understandably the highpoint of the opera. Costume apart, there was little in her climactic encounter with Onegin to suggest development of personality, but her vocal clarity and projection remained undiminished. Undoubtedly a singer to watch out for.

As, too, is Martin Muir – his Onegin struck a viable balance between philanderer and one whose aloofness conceals a fear of commitment such as Tchaikovsky himself was experiencing at the time he composed the opera. Supercilious but not unduly patronising in his initial dealings with Tatyana, his protestations of love in the final scene were as convincing as Tchaikovsky’s redefining of Pushkin’s original drama allows, though the gesture towards suicide at the close was a regrettable instance of directorial overkill. Nevertheless, this was a strong, sympathetic portrayal of a figure easy to over-interpret vocally and to misinterpret psychologically.

There were few weaknesses among the remaining singers. Ruth Trawford captured Olga’s vivacity of spirit and naïve manner. After initial unevenness of tone, Paul Koelbloed convincingly brought out the defensiveness behind Lensky’s rash challenging of Onegin, carrying the stoic nobility of his famous aria through into the fateful dual scene. Adrienne Walters was unobtrusively authoritative as Madame Larina, Sylvia Park a warm, affectionate Filipyevna and Wojtek Mrzowski a resolute Zaretsky. Lance Ritchie brought lyrical warmth to Gremin’s aria of contentment over marriage to Tatyana, the point at which Onegin realises too late his error of judgement. Martin Chapple, in suitably fin de siècle attire, made the most of dance instructor Monsieur Triquet’s diverting cameo.

The production undoubtedly benefited from the simple but effective direction and lighting of Claudio Tedesco. Scaling down the size of a pit orchestra can be detrimental to the overall sound balance, but the 11-piece ensemble (placed immediately behind the audience) conveyed the essentials of Tchaikovsky’s instrumentation without sounding stretched. In particular, the woodwind writing – crucial to the emotional ’feel’ of the opera – came over most atmospherically. If Derek Carden was responsible for the arrangement, he deserves credit for this as well as for the shapely phrasing he drew from the ensemble – keenly alive to the ebb and flow of the drama.

Overall, then, a not inconsiderable triumph of casting and staging that other, higher-profile opera companies could do well to emulate. AAC will be back in 2004 with productions of Die Fledermaus and, a real coup, the first staging in nearly a century of John Gay’s Polly – sequel to The Beggar’s Opera. Well worth taking the Jubilee Line up to Dollis Hill to attend.

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