Cardiff tenor Sam Furness finds himself in exemplary company – not to mention idyllic location – singing Lensky in Garsington Opera’s Eugene Onegin.
The young singer (below) has carved out a strong relationship with Garsington which usually conjures up magical productions with fine singing and musicianship in the perfect Buckinghamshire countryside. Furness sings a more physically robust and sprightly Lensky than we often expect, beautifully voiced, emotionally wracked in the dual scene yet not the caricature wilting poet. Garsington is lucky to have him and his absence from the Welsh operatic stage is, like so many things, a mystery. He brings clear definition as he builds emotion and tension through the arias and delights with impressive top notes.
Michael Boyd’s production makes excellent use of the glass pavilion at Garsington with peasants visible as they approach the stage and similarly the pairs of lovers (or not lovers in Onegin and Tatyana’s case) walking around the outside of the auditorium. However, it was distracting having some scenes overshadowed by unnecessary although stylish additions such as the village girls offering fruit to Tatyana at the end of the drop-dead wonderful letter scene.
Douglas Boyd brings the bliss of Tchaikovsky’s score to life from the from the pit with the Philharmonia players and the chorus reminds us of the joy of singing that has been so lacking in these dark (and silent) Covid months.
The star of the show is the Moldovan soprano Natalia Tanasii as Tatynana (main image) who so often the leading persona should be. With the peasants’ gift of a near life sized corn dolly on the stage, no doubt representing her own fertility as the adolescent struggles with raging hormones, the soprano delivers fabulous vibrant notes, smooth, milky and matched with the sheen of control and technical elegance. The flighty sister Olga is acted with great presence by Fleur Barron (with Sam Furness below) , and she mesmerises with a glorious mezzo and fabulous low register. Dramatically and vocally the sisters are a compelling pairing.
Jonathan McGovern as Onegin (below and with Natalia Tanasii below and with Fleur Barron bottom pic) suffers from the production not quite being able to get across his transformation (which is never totally convincing in the opera) and possibly over directed, throwing himself around or just standing and delivering, which takes detracts from the quality and engagement with his singing. To my mind he looks a too dishevelled from the start to be object of Tatyana’s romantic dreams.
No problems again with Matthew Rose as Prince Gremin who is required, and exquisitely delivers, to caress us with his marriage aria and not very much acting is ever required. Yvonne Howard and Kathleen Wilkinson gave characterful interpretations and strong vocal performances as Madame Larina and Filippyevna. Squeezing every bit of humour and cringe-making from his pretty aria is Colin Judson as Monsieur Triquet. No wonder Onegin gets rip roaring drunk.
I found them distracting but my partner adored the dancers’ depictions of Onegin’s wanderings after killing Lensky although the idea of his dead friend haunting his travels makes perfect sense.
Eugene Onegin at Garsington ending on 22 July
Images Clive Barda.