Review: Eugene Onegin, English Touring Opera, Snape, April 14

ETO first brought their production of Tchaikovsky’s sublime work to Snape in 2007 and the intervening years have done nothing to diminish the impact of James Conway’s masterly staging and direction.

The use of an angled mirror on stage increases the feeling of space as well as giving certain set pieces an enhanced sense of time and place, the opening garden scene, for example having something of a Pre-Raphaelite character.

From the very first bar, with its falling chromatics, the orchestra played with great sensitivity and understanding and the scene was set for the tragedies to unfold.

Despite the title, the character of Tatyana is arguably more central to the work and her evolution from impetuous young girl to steadfast wife demands wide-ranging vocal and dramatic skills. Sarah-Jane Davies hit the high notes with clear precision and her final dismissal of Onegin successfully mingled her clearly felt duty with an obvious regret for what might have been. Nicholas Lester captured the supercilious charm of Onegin and was vocally impeccable throughout. As he glared into the mirror as his last hopes crumbled to the final forceful chords one sensed that everyone in the hall shared his despair. Yet there was so much more to the performance than the two principals. Jaewoo Kim and Niamh Kelly were engaging and believable as the unfortunate Lensky and Olga and Stephen Holloway received a deserved ovation for his fine rendering of Gremin’s aria in praise of his new wife. Frances McCafferty gave strong characterisation to the nursemaid Filipnevya and Harriet Williams was touching as Larina whose party comes to such a disastrous conclusion.

This was a performance that went well beyond the sum of its parts and revealed the work in all its greatness. Michael Rosewell conducted with an unobtrusive yet genuine understanding of the emotional truth in the score and the orchestra responded superbly.

Gareth Jones