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Review: Eugene Onegin

Phil Turner (Rotherham Advertiser), August 2015

Tchaikovsky’s retelling of Alexander Pushkin’s wonderful story in verse boasts a fine libretto with the music perfectly matching the epic Russian romance and drama.

This stunning in-the-round production directed for Sheffield-based Opera on Location by Louise Pymer, is set in an austere, unsettling and pared-down monochrome with all the performers dressed in black and white like those old romantic films.

Location is everything for this innovative new group and through using a non-specific time period being surrounded by the art deco ballroom’s high ceilings and marble, it’s not hard to imagine the pre-revolutionary 19th century St Petersburg of the original tale.

Shadowy lighting adds to the atmosphere as the performers sing and dance around the audience.Pymer’s enthusiasm for exploring character is evident and the singers all show plenty of acting depth as they seek to fulfil the group’s aim of “shining a light on the difference between our public persona and our private identities.”

In the age of celebrity and the selfie it’s an intriguing idea.

Musical director Ewan Gilford shows an extraordinary feel for Tchaikovsky’s score as we follow the life of Onegin, from the disenchanted “bored” twenty-something-year old through to the events that lead to his downfall.

Early on Olga, delightfully sung by strong mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton, and Tatyana sing a wistful song together. The naive and pensive Tatyana cannot compare to the vivacious Olga who has a fiancé Lenski, an aspiring poet played by the excellent tenor Gareth Lloyd.

Lenski arrives with his friend Onegin, who has inherited a neighbouring estate from his uncle, though his has no interest in running it. The arrogant Onegin is amused by flirting with Tatyana and manages to unleash pent-up-fantasies of romantic love in her. In the remarkable “Letter Scene”, Tatyana unwisely stays up half the night writing a letter on Onegin declaring her love.

Tatyana is beautifully sung by Andrea Tweedale, who succeeds in transforming herself from teenager to older woman.

As Onegin, Aidan Edwards displays a fine baritone, but for me Lloyd steals it with his flourish of touching emotion before he meets his tragic end in a dual with his friend. Onegin deserves and gets his come-uppance at the end.

A fabulous and stimulating night at the opera


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