Eugene Onegin (REVIEW)
Welsh National Opera
Liverpool Empire
Peter Grant

It’s always exciting seeing the huge WNO trucks outside the Liverpool Empire. They are the operatic equivalent of a touring super group.
And their programme is consistently full of diverse delightful surprises.

I have always admired the versatility of the WNO chorus. They can certainly dance, too.

WNO are here until Saturday with two very different operas.

Sadness and loss, love and laughter.

The first, Eugene Onegin is a slowly stirring revival of a 2004 production directed by James Macdonald.

Here the curtain rises to reveal an angular set from designer Tobias Hoheisel featuring a sparse country garden – seemingly part of a big barn.

Througout the three-hour 30 minute, three act production – with two intervals – the set changes to great effect and yet with minimal, striking effect.

Focus is clearly on the bitter-sweet drama.

Tchaikovsky, who in life sought sincerity in all people, provides a score- pitched perfectly to convey all the emotive senses from giddy love to sheer rejection and deadly despair.

Conductor Ainars Rubikis weaves a sweeping sense of light and shade.

The world-weary Mr Onegin is dressed in black – very funereal in appearance just like his darkly cloaked feelings.

Eugene, a self-confessed pessimist, does not own a pair of rose-tinted spectacles and it is heart-wrenching to see him treat the delightful Tatanya so callously.

First performed in 1879, if this was set in modern Eugene is the type of man to dump her by text.

He reminded me of a politician with emotional spin in abundance.

One wonderfully-lit scene in act one sees Tatyana a stunning all-round polished performance from soprano Natalya Romaniw pours out her heart in a letter.

Sung in Russian, the text is translated on an above stage monitor.

Pure poetry – and that is not and easy task when celebrating Puskin’s Russian verse.

She portrays a woman who loses her heart as the story progresses leading to at least some sort of satisfaction with a prince in the court of St Petersburg.

Nicholas Lester plays Eugene as aloof and offers the right balance of controlled swagger and uneasy charm notably in his flirting with his best friend’s girl, Olga.

Alas, poet Lensky (Jason Bridges) doesn’t take kindly to such an attack on his dignity and a duel ensues here the set capturing the snow-covered wasteland is chilling. I was sad to say goodbye to the character and the talented man playing him.

A busy ballroom scene is followed by a powerful meeting between Eugene and Tatyana resulting in a mesmerising finale.

Super sensitive

(4 / 5)

Die Fledermaus (PREVIEW)

From angst to fun and frolics Die Fledermaus is where the WNO lets its metaphorical hair down with the sublime atmospheric music of Johann Strauss II here under the baton of Tomas Hanus and the orchestra.

Rosaline is looking forward to a ‘chill out’ few days with her lover while her husband is doing porridge, so to speak. And then her maid asks for time off to care for a sick aunt.

In reality all four characters are planning to spend the evening at a masquerade ball given by the prince.

Expect all manner of hilarity, mistaken identity, posh frocks and masks. Another star, apart from the lovely art nouveau set, is the romantic score which cannot fail to lift any mood – Mr Onegin should have tried some.

It is set in (pre-Brexit) Vienna in 1870 which is a romping good setting for some very funny visual gags.

First performed in 2011, this popular production from director John Copley promises just as much sparkle this time around.

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