Theatre in Wales

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Swansea soprano, Natalya Romaniw totally captivates!

Eugene Onegin

Welsh National Opera , Wales Millennium Centre , October-06-17
Eugene Onegin by Welsh National Opera Before we hear the familiar sweeping romance of Tchaikovsky’s music his opening deeper woodwind notes seems to underline all the irony, satire and humour that emerges from his libretto, where he shared the writing of this morality tale with Shilovsky, based on Pushkin’s novel of the same name. The music throughout is beautifully played and finely controlled by Ainãrs Rubikis, soon to become Music Director at the Komische Oper in Berlin, making his debut with the WNO.

International designer, Tobias Hoheisel’s elegant large, bold white set is clean and spectacular contrasting with the undesirable happenings below. Real life takes place, mainly in a smaller open square in the centre of the stage. It is very skillfully enhanced by Andreas Grüter’s lighting. The curtain rises on a very rural scene, a corner of a green grass field surrounded by wooden fencing. Sat on the grass in this idyll we see a young girl, Tatyana reading a romantic story. She is very soon joined by her sister, Olga. Natalya Romaniw’s strong soprano combines well with Claudia Huckle’s fine contralto and they set us an air of innocence, eventually to be broken after the arrival of our eponymous anti-hero.

But there’s a bit more fun before that. The exemplary WNO chorus hit the stage with some great clumping dancing maintaining our bucolic bliss. Their elegance in both movement and song do return in later scenes. Olga is greeted by her handsome young lover, a poet, Lensky, sung with a melodious tenor by American Jason Bridges. He brings his good friend, Eugene Onegin with him and things start to go wrong.

I am told that love at ‘first sight’ does happen in the real world. And wham! It happens very quickly here before our eyes, the very lovely Tatyana, inexplicitly falls for the haughty newcomer, Onegin. From her bedroom she pours her thoughts into a letter and gets it delivered to him. Here we get the beginnings of the wonder of Romaniw’s colourful soprano.

Onegin meets her in a box hedge garden, rejects and humiliates her. Nicholas Lester brings an edge to his splendid baritone that makes him an ideal baddie.

Very reluctantly Tatyana attends her Name day ball. Here Onegin shows his true colours. He starts to deliberately flirt with Olga to get at Lensky. Lensky’s jealousy deepens as he observes them dancing and frolicking about. Olga assures him there is nothing in it but he cannot be assuaged. He challenges Onegin to a duel and is killed. Onegin takes off on his travels but returns some year later.

He attends a Ball in St Petersburg. His relative Prince Gremin arrives with a very beautiful lady on his arm. Onegin realises that it is Tatyana. Gremin tells Onegin she is his wife. Here we get a very admirable dessert to follow our feast. Miklos Sebestyén with his, strong, engaging bass tells us, with a fervour, "All men surrender to Love's power".

Finally Onegin, now passionately in love with Tatyana begs her to go with him. Again the magnificent Romaniw’s soprano soars as we learn she still holds her great love for him and she battles inside but rushes away from Onegin, determined to remain faithful to her husband.

Turmoil brings a final strongly sung aria from Nicholas Lester. His compelling Onegin flings himself, utterly devastated, to the floor – His just desserts?

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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