Guest review by Mary Grace Nguyen
In Jane Gray’s sensitive and stirring production of Tchaikovsky’s Yevgenyi Onyegin, now showing at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, tensions rise in Pushkin’s tale about a young girl who falls in love with a man who realises too late that he is also in love with her. Tchaikovsky’s alluring and stupendous music score, exquisitely performed on the piano by David Smith, elicits the love the young girl, Tatyana holds dear for an unsatisfied aristocrat, Onyegin as well as the suffering and torment of love’s powerful nature.
Opera Loki’s new production has been touring in France and the UK. Sung in English, Onyegin is a refreshing opera for both avid opera-goers and those who are new to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. A vocally athletic cast take to Tchaikovsky’s vocal lines with ease and rapture, evoking the tragic and melancholic essence just as the Russian composer intended. At St Paul’s Covent Garden, the staging is kept to a minimum, yet the use of a handful of props and collection of lush costumes, by Pam Line and Carolyn Bearare, bring the audience closer to Pushkin and his era.
There are a selection of noteworthy scenes in this production which demonstrate Tchaikovsky’s unique interpretation of regret, rejection and resilience. Hope for young Tatyana, engrossed in her fantasy novels of heroes and warriors, can be found in Act I when Tatyana writes her letter to Onyegin, disclosing her deepest feelings for him. Act 2 plays with fire when Onyegin turns on his closest friend, Lenski, by crossing the line, attempting to steal Lenski’s lover and all of her attention, leading to fatal consequences and an unexpected duel. It is only when Onyegin sees his friend lying dead on the ground that he realises he has made a big mistake.
The use of masks in a banquet scene in Act 3 — representative of Onegin’s loneliness and absence of love in his life — is a clever insight into Onyegin and Tatyana’s polarising characters: one was inspired by her emotions and passions; the other learned to feel too late and remains stuck in his own Byronic, wandering state.
Kirsty McLean is adaptable for both the roles of young and old Tatyana. (It’s fascinating how a change of clothes and great acting skills can influence one’s performance.) McLean is vocally sharp and eloquent with a beguiling performance as the distraught little girl in Act 1. By the time the final act arrives, the audience is clenching their fists, angered by Onyegin’s foolish behaviour, yet sympathising with a woman who has suffered the brunt of unrequited love and the biggest rejection.
Jonny de Garis’s Onyegin is robust and vocally controlled in the first two acts, depicting a man of class and with a touch of stoicism. His most moving and heartfelt performances come in Act 3 — the entire audience was at the edge of their seats the night I attended as they watched Onyegin begging on his hands and knees for Tatyana’s forgiveness. This was perhaps the most intense scene in the opera; together McLean and Garis give an exhilarating and suspense-worthy performance to set both Tatyana and Onyegin free from the tension.
Jack Roberts (Lenski), Lara Rebekah Harvey (Tatyana’s sister) and Georgia Mae Bishop (Tatyana’s nanny) also gave terrific performances. Jack Roberts’s voice was warm and romantic; it projected effectively across the stage. His character is easy to pity, particularly in Act 3 when we the sense Lenski’s friend was using him for his own amusement. Lara Rebekah Harvey’s singing in Act 1 is a joy to see and hear, vocally clear and graceful as Tanya’s sister. And Georgia Mae Bishop’s performance is filled with wit and delight as she tells Tatyana tales of her past loves. Julian Charles Debreuil’s performance of ‘All men surrender to Love’s power’, as Gremin in Act 3, is brilliantly sung and full of wonder. And not forgetting to mention strong and supportive performances from Ryan Hugh Ross and Helen Rotchell.
Oneygin may not have his happy ending, yet here is a wonderful production that demonstrates the vicissitudes of the human condition and the fragility of our emotions. In the face of rejection, one will regret but must eventually move on in order to survive.
Opera Loki’s Yevgenyi Onyegin continues until 29 September – details and tickets here
Mary Grace Nguyen is a writer and blogger. She is creator of TrendFem, an online platform to promote the theatre, entertainment and arts scene in London, as well as independent off-West End shows and new works performed at some of best theatres in the world. Mary holds an MA in Journalism from Birkbeck College, London
Pictures from Opera Loki