I enjoyed this Onegin enormously and quite possibly for the very same reasons others will not like it.
Richard Studer’s direction was fresh, clear, unfussy, focused on the characterisations, did not over stress on having fancy dancing (usually embarrassing anyway with chorus members who are employed for singing not footwork) and lavish sets (not that was probably an option with MWO budgets).
We were sitting rather close, perhaps too close as we switched seats, to the pit and could enjoy the non-verbal communications between conductor Jonathan Lyness and his players, and even between the players, and then with the singers on stage. At the odd time the balance between players and singers was out of kilter, I would recommend sitting a little further back depending on venue, but it was also evident that the players like the singers were predominantly young people which is another important aspect of this company’s work. Of course the small chamber orchestra Ensemble Cymru cannot realise the full majesty, sweeping lyricism and grandeur of Tchaikovsky’s score but it is enjoyable and accomplished.
The sets are kept very simple; an outer wall of a slightly weather-beaten grand house with three entrances which could double for the house on the country estate and the city palace; and which could just be hoisted out of way for external scenes including the duel.
Some poles were presumably supposed to be silver birch trees, I am happy to be corrected, and apart from a few chairs, the required bed, and pistols, that was about it. With some delicate and well-considered lighting design from Dan Saggars, atmospheres, attention-focusing were achieved. Absolutely fine.
Robin Lyn Evans and George von Bergen
Ailsa Mainwaring George von Bergen
Elizabeth Karani’s Tatyana reacted to her rejection not with tears and tantrums but a cool dignity. This Tatyana particularly, and rightly, grabs us during the wonderful letter scene and then the final showdown with Onegin. It is less clear, through this characterization, why she does lurch from a cool cucumber to a red-hot chili pepper and back again quite so schizophrenically, however.
Ailsa Mainwaring was a perfectly flighty and even silly Olga and a perfect foil to her serious sister. The contrast between Onegin and Lensky, sung by George von Bergen and Robin Lyn Evans, was similarly nicely crafted. The former a suitably strong, vocally and physically, a commanding presence, aloof and with ennui; the latter over emotional and intense and he sings his great aria beautifully. Madam Larina and Filipyevna, mother and nurse, sung by Stephanie Windsor-Lewis and Maria Jagusz, form another pairing, caring and older but also contrasting wisdom and experience of the servant with that ambition and status awareness of the doomed Russian class. Above it all is Prince Gremin, sung securely by Sion Goronwy, and his mirror image character, the slightly simpering or at least providing a simpering song for the France-obsessed provincials Monsieur Triquet sung prettily by Jonathon Cooke.
During pauses and the intervals during this touring production a chap behind me made little comments to his partner which, rather than being distracting, where extremely illuminating, informative and heartening. The last comment, as he rose from his seat at the end, was “I really enjoyed that.”
Now, I tread ultra-carefully here and, if anyone takes exception I apologise in advance, but this man was of an ethnicity and accent that I do not often see at the opera. The fact that he was fully engaged in this story telling, commenting on it as it unfolded, and left the theatre happy and quite possibly in some small way converted to opera is a massive testament to Mid Wales Opera and this production.
I would love to see more attention on bringing more diverse audiences to the opera and other arts forms) than who is on the stage, which, of course, also matters. Has anyone else looked in an orchestra pit as well lately?
Why does any of this matter? Well because Mid Wales Opera receives a small but vital finding from the public sector via arts councils and yet it is providing generally good quality productions, usually splendidly sung, to audiences who do not pour into the large venues to see well-funded companies that frequently indulge in what some might describe as vanity projects. It seems to be able to encourage people to try out an evening of opera without a large financial expenditure or the intimidation of a large venue and company. As someone who brings new people, including reviewers, into opera (and dance for that matter) I speak from experience.
This Onegin and this company are well worth investing a few pound of ticket money and a few hours of leisure time to reap a valuable return.
Rest of tour: