Review: Eugene Onegin at the Festival Theatre

Komische Oper Berlin have their work cut out for them in tackling Tchaikovsky’s opera in which, according to the programme notes, “not a lot happens”. Tchaikovsky himself coined the term “lyrical scenes” to describe his adaptation of Pushkin’s verse novel with its kitchen sink snapshots of Russian country life and the personal passions that boil over in melodramatic ways.

The company throw the full weight of their merry chorus at the opening bucolic scenes, staged on a rotating grassy knoll. But the focus of the action is the love quadrangle of two sisters, the pensive Tatyana and the free-spirited Olga, indulging in wistful nostalgia with a keen edge, plus Olga’s fiancé Lensky and his neighbour Eugene Onegin, the very definition of trouble, for whom Tatyana falls hard.

There are few blockbuster moments to speak of but Asmik Grigorian wrings every last drop of tormented longing out of the marathon composition of Tatyana’s crazy-in-love letter to Onegin, rhapsodising on the agony and ecstasy. Singing the title role on the first night of the EIF run, Gunter Papendell was dashing and a touch dastardly in his phlegmatic rejection of Tatyana’s affections, but he lacked the range to convey the bored and desiccated husk of the third act, now with added greying hair at the grand old age of 26.

In the epitome of romantic bad timing, Tatyana is married and settled by the time Onegin recognises his mistake. The opulent townhouse stage set is dismantled bit by bit to convey the years melting away. The principals are transported back to the pastoral scene of their first encounter where, in a somewhat excessive move, they are doused in stage rain to compound the misery of their thwarted love.

Eugene Onegin, Festival Theatre, 15-17 Aug, 7.15pm

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