Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House – ‘strong cast, but cumbersome production’
This revival of Kasper Holten’s first production for the Royal Opera – launched to mixed reviews in 2013 – opens 10 days after his announcement that he is to leave the company in two years’ time. It seems unfortunate that the news coincides with his weakest London show.
Based on Pushkin’s verse novel, Tchaikovsky’s opera tells a straightforward but deeply involving tale of two individuals who love each other at different and the wrong times. Holten complicates this by having the protagonists doubled by dancers representing their younger selves: as well as experiencing the action directly, we also see it through the eyes of the characters when older.
It’s an awkward arrangement that turns a perfect scenario into something cumbersome. Though the complex apparatus has been simplified, Michael Fabiano’s Lensky still lies dead at the front of the stage during the lengthy final scenes – as if the audience is incapable or remembering either his death in a duel or its significance. Throughout, meanwhile, the choral scenes are poorly handled. There’s some booing for Holten at the curtain call.
There are genuine strengths, though, in individual performances. In the title role, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – who is currently undergoing treatment for a brain tumour – is magnificent vocally and dramatically. He receives an ovation.
Australian soprano Nicole Car consolidates the positive impression she recently made as Micaela in Carmen with a superbly sung and acted Tatyana. Fabiano is an impassioned Lensky, Ferruccio Furlanetto a grandly toned and moving Prince Gremin. Conductor Semyon Bychkov knows how the score should go, and musically this is a strong evening – but I doubt whether the production will come back, and it doesn’t deserve to.