Theatre in Wales

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Russian Existential Angst in English

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera- Eugene Onegin - , Courtyard Theatre, Hereford. , April 24, 2018
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera- Eugene Onegin - Mid Wales Opera brought their short, spring tour of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin to an end on the 10th April with a final, intense performance just over the border at the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford.

Despite the scaled down nature of the production, they have managed to pack a punch with small but gritty ensembles both onstage and in the orchestra pit. The onstage ensemble took on all the supporting characters including rustic peasant workers in the field harvest; servants and washerwomen; gentry attending the balls both as provincial chattering classes in the country manor of the Larina Estate in Act 2, and as St Petersburg high society at Prince Gremin's palace in Act 3. They sang well, danced and interacted as a truly "supporting" cast, performing with tremendous presence and committment, making the story work and giving the "feel" of twice as many onstage.

The reduced orchestration of the opera was once again by music director Jonathen Lyness with his gift for both reduction and orchestration, conveying the full spirit of Tchaikovsky's score with a mere 12 instruments. All are members of Ensemble Cymru, (whom Lyness conducted for the Onegin performances) and they provide the musical back-bone to the work of this brave little touring company.

Richard Studer, the MWO artistic co-director, is a polymath who stages, designs (set and costumes), choreographs and directs. Like Lyness, he has a gift for conveying things fully in shorthand, minimal style. In this case the elegant opulence of the era with a few carefully chosen elements: a few chairs; a flat with a number of doorways hinting at early 19 century, neo-classical style, wreath mouldings above and distressed paintwork, flown in or out to divide the stage space and indicate a country mansion or, with the addition of three asymmetrically disposed and softly glowing little chandeliers, the residence of Prince Gremin. Costume was also simple but indicating correctly the era and blending into the elegant whole. Dan Saggars lighting warmly complements the setting and adds to the overall effect.

Baritone, George Von Bergen, gave an excellent and manly account of the cynical Onegin, though I was waiting to see more of his internal conflict at work earlier in the piece. Elizabeth Karani's Tatiana grew on us as the opera progressed. Her soprano very pure though rather tremulous, she effected her transformation from simple country gentlewoman to poised society hostess very convicingly and, later in the third act, she movingly displays both the anguish of her dilemma and the maturity she has acheived as a woman. The other star of the evening was Robyn Lyn Evans as the hapless Lensky, killed early on in his duel with Onegin, his was a powerful and beautiful tenor voice, delivering with both passion and emotion.

But, in Act 3, when Tatiana's older husband Prince Gremin sings his aria, the work comes into sharp focus - here is the moral compass of the piece: at one time suffering from a similar boredom and angst as Onegin, he was able to recognise and cherish the simplicity of love when he found it with Tatiana. Of course Onegin immediately decides that, afterall, he loves Tatiana and wants what this other man has for himself, where before he rejected and scorned it...complicated stuff! it

Gremin was sung by Sion Goronwy, and his brief moment in the spotlight was something of a show stopper, he makes a deep, rich and magnificent sound. How smart of Tchaikovsky to give this beautiful and grave resolution of the opera's conundrum to the bass voice, anchoring the whole piece and giving meaning to an otherwise meaningless series of situations.

The Prince has taken his lot so differently and has found contentment in his life, whereas Onegin's tragedy is that he will never be content because for him the grass will always be greener anywhere but the dark place of cynicism and self deprecation he inhabits. And Tatiana, tempted though she may be and despite her earlier infatuation, comes to understand very well where her good fortune lies...and it's not with Onegin.

Mid Wales Opera's 2018 season picks up again in the Autumn with Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole in a SmallStages tour which does just what it says on the tin, visit all the little, local venues in Mid Wales and beyond. visit

For more information on Mid Wales Opera's work see:

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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