Eugene Onegin review – lots of love and passion to admire in uneven new staging | Opera

Holland Opera Parkthe new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is directed by Julia Burbach, whose staging for the company of L’Amico Fritz de Mascagni caused a sensation last summer. Unfortunately, his Onegin is more uneven – insightful and often moving, but also deviating, sometimes capriciously, from the theatrical naturalism that the work’s almost Chekhovian dramaturgy demands.

Placing the only interval after act two, scene one, she makes much of the parallels, both musical and dramatic, between Tatiana’s love for Onegin and his later passion for her. Each half of the opera is now effectively seen from a unique point of view – first its own, then its own – and each forms a mirror image of the other as Burbach presents not only external events, but the comparable functioning of the mind and imagination of its protagonists. Anush Hovhanissian’s Tatyana dreams of Samuel Dale Johnson‘s Onegin during the prelude and he materializes beside her as she fantasizes about his response to her letter, a process later reversed, in terms of imagery and physical gesture, when she appears next to him then that he writes to her desperately.

“The letter scene is beautifully done”… Anush Hovhannisyan as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. Photography: Alastair Muir

Both times, the ensuing contrast between illusion and reality comes across as painfully cruel, but one can’t help but feel that Burbach is overstating his case and his showmanship is sometimes stronger elsewhere. The scene in which Madame Larina (Amanda Roocroft) and Filippyevna (Kathleen Wilkinson), reflect on how the habits of age erase the happiness of youth is extraordinarily touching. More importantly, the disintegration of the relationship between Dale Johnson and Thomas Atkin‘s Lensky – not a shy romantic dreamer, but witty, temperamental and idealistic – is superbly handled.

This is also partly due to both men giving terrific performances. A theater animal and a good singer, Dale Johnson perfectly captures Onegin’s charisma and the world-weary boredom that manifests itself in self-destruction. Atkins’ Lensky is gloriously sung: it’s a beautiful voice and its aria, a pattern of restrained intensity and extraordinary dynamic control, is arguably the highlight of the evening. Hovhannisyan, with her slightly metallic tone, is perhaps more compelling as the moral woman of the final scenes than as the naïve, bookish girl of the beginning, although the letter scene is beautifully done. Lada Valešová’s direction is admirable in its avoidance of grand gestures, but slightly too slow for my liking. The choral singing is excellent.

Eugene Onegin is in the repertoire at Opera Holland Park, London until June 25.