Thursday, April 11, 2013

Onegin in Barn

In the depths of the Hampshire countryside is a wapping great barn with a V-shaped roof, partly brick-walled. It seats about two hundred, has a stage behind it, with an orchestra of twenty-five, previous members of South Bank Sinfonia with director Simon Over. The chorus consists of a score of students; the cast is singers under thirty mostly. This is Bury Court Opera lined up for its annual show, Eugene Onegin, whose plot was near to the heart of Tchaikovsky because he, like Onegin, had received a letter in which the writer confessed love. But the composer, unlike Onegin, married the girl despite his homosexuality. Tchaikovsky spoke of his dislike of Onegin's treatment of Tatyana in refusing her advances.      

Tchaikovsky could not have foreseen that Onegin would be cherished and survive whereas his other operas with much more conventional scenarios would not be anywhere near as successful. T gave his operatic masterpiece to students for its premiere. He was surely right to do so for Onegin works much better in more intimate surroundings than the bigger houses and Bury Court proved it once again. Well produced by Sebastian Harcombe sympathetically, simply, and without any of the current production nonsenses we suffer the opera went to the heart as it should do. Tchaikovsky would have been as pleased as the audience was on March 16th in Hampshire (I think).
The singing was uniformly satisfactory neither reaching the highs (or lows) of opera houses where the average ticket price has many noughts. Ilona Domnich born St Petersburg trained London was a thoroughly convincing Tatyana, good voice and looked extremely beautiful; she broke more hearts than Onegin's in that final duet. Gerard Collett was her Mr Ruthless, eloquent; surely Onegin was right to put her off, they would never have been happy. The husband Gremin (Welsh James Gower was young for the part but musically satisfying (perhaps he died soon enough for Onegin to have another go at widow Tatty?) Andrew Dickinson (Lensky) got better and more convincing as the evening went on. Anglo-Czech Lucia Spickova was a charming Madame Larina. The weather that evening was horribly cold and wet but after half an act the music and performance had warmed us all up.

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