The Welsh National Opera (WNO) is making its annual autumn visit to
Here’s the potted story without giving too much away: Onegin and his friend Lensky visit sisters Olga and Tatyana in their parents’ country house. Lensky is engaged to Olga, but it’s Onegin’s first contact with the sisters. Tatyana falls in love with Onegin, so she writes him a love letter, but he rejects her. Later, there is a ball to celebrate Tatyana’s name day. Onegin reinforces his rejection of Tatyana by flirting with Olga, thus making Lensky jealous. There is a duel and Onegin shoots Lensky dead. That covers the first two acts, and then the third act is set five years later, when Onegin encounters Tatyana again. How will she respond?
Tchaikovsky dumbed-down his source material, Pushkin’s eponymous poetic novel, by concentrating on the relationships of the characters, missing out a lot of the political and social context, which probably wouldn’t have time-travelled well from the 19th century anyway. He did lift content directly from the work for his libretto, but even so, Pushkin’s voice is a little buried in schmaltz. Thankfully, the story moves on at pace and there are no long and boring arias. The music is accessible and tuneful and the orchestra is simply marvellous. All of the principals perform well: Nicholas Lester brings the tragic Onegin to life as much as possible; and Jason Bridges is equally impressive as his doomed friend Lensky. It could be argued that the opera might well be called Tatyana Larina, for she is at least as vital to its success as Onegin, and in this production Natalya Romaniw takes full advantage and shines out in the part. She is wonderfully moving as she battles with her emotions and the enormity of her decisions. Miklos Sebestyen also shines in his cameo of Prince Gremin.
The set takes a bit of getting used to. It’s constructed with an inner arch within the proscenium arch, which gives a kind of zen view by narrowing the visual angles. It works particularly well in the bedroom scene, but loses the broad sweep of snowy winter in the duel and the excellent chorus appears to struggle at Tatyana’s ball with the amount of space left for dancing. The costumes are brilliant, as is the superb orchestra. Ainars Rubikis conducts with style and sensitivity; the players respond perfectly to his control and contribute a magical performance throughout the opera. It is a delight from start to finish.