English Touring Opera has re-cast the James Conway production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for this year; Joanna Parker’s set – which both literally reflects the action and keeps us (the audience) firmly as lookers-in – continues to both enthral and distract. The David Lloyd-Jones translation is used, in conjunction with surtitles. Surely these should not be necessary for an English-language production?
Overall, it’s not the most sympathetic of stagings. Sarah-Jane Davies is a statuesque Tatiana, though she deserves her applause after the letter scene. I found it difficult to warm to Nicholas Lester in the title role, though he gave an object lesson in enunciation to some of the cast. That vital touch of Byronic glamour as well as Slavic mood-shifts is lacking. Although Jaewoo Kim delivered Lensky’s two arias effectively, his characterisation also lacked that vital spark.
Around these three principals circulate some well-sung and acted smaller-scale studies. Niamh Kelly’s Olga and Frances McCafferty’s Nurse are both interesting to hear and watch. Stephen Holloway’s account of Prince Gremin’s Act Three aria also makes its point. If you’re used to M Triquet as an elderly beached-up exile from the French Revolution, then Andrew Glover’s dapper music-tutor, busily noting down folk songs and delivering his couplets with aplomb changes your perception of the part.
Seven scenes in three acts with a time lapse of at least three years between the first five and the last two presents a problem for theatres. Where do you place the one interval? In this case, it’s between Act Two Scenes One and Two, so that the duel leads into the St Petersburg scenes. I can see several reasons why it’s handled this way, but I’m not sure that it works out in practice. But audiences do have buses to catch and have to get up for work in the morning.