The Royal Ballet – Onegin [Federico Bonelli, Laura Morera]

Onegin – Ballet in three acts

Eugene Onegin​​ – Federico Bonelli
Lensky​​​ – Nehemiah Kish
Madame Larina – ​​Elizabeth McGorian
Tatiana​​​ – Laura Morera
Olga​​​ – Yuhui Choe
Nurse​​​ – Ursula Haegli
Prince Gremin – ​​Gary Avis
Relatives, country-folk, members of the St Petersburg nobility – ​Artists of The Royal Ballet

Orchestra of The Royal Opera House
Dominic Grieve

John Cranko – Choreography​​
Kurt-Heinz Stolze after Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky – Music
​​Jürgen Rose – Designs
Steen Bjarke – Lighting

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 22 January, 2013
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Laura Morera as Tatiana & Federico Bonelli as Eugene Onegin (Onegin, The Royal Ballet, January 2013). Photograph: Bill CooperLaura Morera is one of The Royal Ballet’s unsung heroines. A Principal with hardly what could be called principal profile, she has been a constant joy in everything she does: speedy, musical, intelligent and dramatic, she embodies the old Royal Ballet virtues which made the company an ensemble of world renown in years past. Tatiana in John Cranko’s seemingly omnipresent version of Pushkin’s tragic tale, is one of her best roles, allowing her full dramatic rein as well as presenting the challenge (admirably met) of progressing from bookish girl to love-struck teen to society grande dame. Hers is a deeply felt and carefully thought-out portrayal – the book she is so assiduously reading and which is sneeringly returned to her during her first meeting with Onegin is, one suspects, a tale of high romanticism.

Laura Morera as Tatiana & Federico Bonelli as Eugene Onegin (Onegin, The Royal Ballet, January 2013). Photograph: Bill CooperThis Tatiana, once the spark of love has been kindled in her, has her emotions barely concealed thereafter; her reaction to seeing Onegin again after so many years during the ball she and her husband are hosting in their St Petersburg palace was particularly striking. Morera stops dead, literally poleaxed for a second before she masters herself and leaves. It is a telling moment, an indication that her girlish Romantic disposition is once again re-awakened, and is superbly conveyed by this impressive artist. Impressive too was her name-day party solo in which she tries to attract Onegin’s attention with increasing desperation. Here Morera places her steely technique entirely at the service of the drama, seamlessly weaving the two, allowing her to phrase it beautifully. Her famed speed allows her to make whip-lash turns and yet linger languorously with an outstretched arm or leg; she brings Ashtonian pliancy to her movement, using her torso and back to full extent and exulting in Cranko’s lush choreography. The final pas de deux saw her dig deep into her emotions to portray a woman tearing herself apart between desire and duty, her final rejection weary to the point of exhaustion.

Laura Morera as Tatiana & Federico Bonelli as Eugene Onegin (Onegin, The Royal Ballet, January 2013). Photograph: Bill CooperMorera is well matched with Federico Bonelli’s superb Onegin. His is a cruel portrayal of a man sheer-bursting with arrogance and disdainful ennui. His treatment of others is simply shocking, his cruel sport with Olga at the party deeply unpleasant and his implacability in the killing of his friend Lensky chilling. Bonelli looks devastatingly handsome in Onegin’s black costumes, and moves with aristocratic elegance at all times. He acts extremely well, too, investing his movement with both private emptiness and public hauteur. His disintegration at the sight of the adult (and married) Tatiana in Act Three is powerful, his desperation in his pleadings with her in her boudoir afterwards painful, his disbelief at her final, desperate rejection of him utterly uncomprehending. His partnering of Morera throughout was superb, the lifts and throws executed with brio.

Yuhui Choe’s Olga is flighty and ditsy to the point of stupidity – there is more to the role than cute naïveté, otherwise her dramatic pleadings to Lensky and Onegin before their duel come from nowhere. Technically, she is very strong, spinning in multiple pirouettes and carving beautiful lines. Nehemiah Kish danced Lensky efficiently enough but he is an example of miscasting – he is too tall and too mature a dancer to convince as the hot-headed young poet, appearing more like Onegin’s elder than his younger friend. (It is to be regretted that the advertised Valentino Zucchetti – a highly promising and alert young dancer – was replaced in the role.)

Gary Avis exuded patrician authority as the Prince Gremin who is immediately smitten by Tatiana at their first meeting, despite her eyes only being for Onegin at the time. Their Act Three pas de deux was tender and loving, a warm, comforting duet when all that have gone before have been characterised by heightened emotion. The corps de ballet gamely made their way through Cranko’s pedestrian ensemble choreography (the Act Three ball is risible), although Act One’s girls impressed with their common line and musicality.

The sets need a redesign: effective enough for the outdoor scenes, the interiors are heavy and unattractive. Lighting is unsophisticated and, why, during a Russian summer (white nights anyone?), does Tatiana’s nurse come to wake her when it is still dark outside. Is she an early riser? Is Madame Larina a cave-dweller? Dominic Grieve conducted Stolze’s Frankenstein-like Tchaikovsky amalgam with all the subtlety and spontaneity of the musical accompaniment to the Red Square May Day Parade. Nor was it one of the Opera House orchestra’s better evenings.

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