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Eugene Onegin, The Helix November 2003

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    Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky, after the great Russian poem by Pushkin, was staged in the Helix, Dublin, last Saturday November 15th by the Russian State Opera of Rostov. An opera full of disquieting angst, intense love, great drama and fantastic music, this performance was not to be missed. To hear the wonderful Tchaikovsky choruses being sung by Russian natives made this production a compelling prospect.

    Pyotr Makarov sang the title role. His voice had a beautiful tone and a wonderful depth to it. Tatyana, sung by Irina Krikunov had a lovely voice, but dramatically she did not appear as immersed in her role as was Makarov. The chorus, firstly of rustic peasants, and subsequently of guests at a St.Petersburg ball, were magnificent. Lenski (Sergei Muntyan) was a huge disappointment. His voice was weak, almost pathetic. Dramatically he was most unconvincing, and he fought a losing battle for stage presence and vocal authority from the moment he appeared. Thankfully, Tchaikovsky has him disposed with in a duel so his weakness did not compromise a wonderful denoument.

    Musically, this production was a triumph. The orchestra was strong and precise. In respect of the staging, I was not so convinced. There were some nice touches – the all-white of rustic innocence contrasted with the all-black of St.Petersburg court intrigue. The sparseness of the duel scene conveyed the bleak depths to which the relationship of the former friends had sunk after a moment of unthinking bluster. However, I felt that, with the exception of Onegin himself, the acting was quite colour-by-numbers. The leads never really got their teeth into characters that are dramatically very rounded, and very human in their weaknesses. Dramatically, one never truly felt Tatyana was as troubled as she might have been. If Lensky felt anger, it was the sort of anger you feel when they’ve run out of mayonnaise at your local sandwich bar, rather than the boiling rage you might feel at the perceived betrayal of your betrothed and of your closest friend.

    The Russian State Opera of Rostov takes this production on a gruelling international tour schedule over the next number of weeks, and it is certainly worth attending - principally to see what, in the future, may very well be a great Russian troupe perform the quintessential Russian Opera.