Friday, 5 August 2011

Eugene Onegin

Opéra Eclaté - St Céré Festival

In the impressive outdoor setting of the courtyard of Castelnau castle (12th C) at Prudhomat in the Lot, Opéra Eclaté gave a performance of Eugene Onegin in a co-production with Opera Fribourg, directed by Eric Perez and designed by Ruth Gross.

Like most of the St Céré Festival’s productions the design is simple, but very effective, making the most of limited resources. Here six translucent panels enclosed the stage, changing colour with backlighting, to follow the mood of the drama, and moving to create suitable spaces.

In the opening scene Karine Motyka (Olga) worked hard to create the illusion of a vivacious young girl as she jumped and skipped about the stage, her full, well balanced, richly coloured and mature mezzo voice giving the lie to her theatrical portrayal of youthfulness.

Tatiana (Ekaterina Godovanets) was, in deliberate contrast, very static as she read her book and sang rather quietly with little colour. At first she looked and sounded like a very gawky, rather sulky, teenager. A little later in the same scene she briefly transformed into a beautiful young woman, as she caught the audience with an ecstatic gaze and dreamed of romantic love, “une reveuse”. This hint of a suppressed passionate nature almost made what follows credible.

The panels were used to even greater effect when the backlighting was switched off and they became white, to form the pages on which Tatiana writes to Onegin in the famous “Letter Scene”. (I foolishly wondered why I couldn’t read the words until I realised they were in Russian)! Ms Godvanets shaped the long solo aria very well. Building the passion in her declaration of love, step by step, her performance opening up vocally and dramatically. The pianissimo passages were floated with a rare and very beautiful colour and her transformation into an attractive young girl was subtle but very real. She was entirely capable of fully exploiting the emotional impact of this scene, which is so central to the work. In doing so she was ably aided by the dialogue with the orchestra and its woodwind soloists. This was definitely the high point of the evening!

Svetislav Stojanovic (Lensky) has a sharp edged tenor voice, which had no difficulty penetrating the dead outdoor acoustic. With his lean masculine figure he persuasively portrayed his youthful love for Olga and later, in the ball scene, he convincingly acted his outrage at the behaviour of Onegin. His solo aria before the duel (Act II Scene 2) was sung very well.

Not outraged, but certainly outrageous, was Eric Vignau whose highly camp and mannered presentation of the minor buffo role of M. Triquet was matched only by his costume. His was a rather special sort of “trouser role” and as always he excels in this type of part.

Sergei Stilmachenko (Onegin) was very un-engaging in the early scenes. His portrayal was heavy with boredom and cynicism but lacking any sort of charm which might possibly attract and enchant a young girl. His voice did not impress either. Whilst he projected adequately, there were no touches of quality which made you sit up and take notice, and here and there his sense of rhythm was not shared by the orchestra. To carry off this role one needs to have a certain charisma and attractiveness behind the bored facade. Otherwise, in the final scene, you have not built any sympathy for the character of Onegin who, having killed his best friend, is then rejected in his turn by the woman he still loves, but whom he spurned as a young girl. M. Stilmachenko did not manage to create and inhabit this part.

In the third act, four years later, Ms Godovanets transformed herself once again as the wife of Prince Gremin. Now she was a beautiful young woman with true nobility of bearing.

Jean-Claude Sarragosse (Prince Gremin) sang nicely, but his tall, handsome fortyish looks were too young for the part, and one could well understand that Tatiana would choose him instead of Onegin!

Hermine Huguenel (Mme Larine) and Beatrice Burley (Filipievna, Tatiana’s nurse), both have warm mature voices and sympathetic demeanours, but in this context they were too similar.  Surely a nurse should have a different, less refined vocal colour from a member of the minor nobility? Something more was needed here to emphasize their individuality.

The chorus was properly schooled by Inna Petcheniouk, and their voices blended well, creating a very pleasing ensemble.

The Festival Orchestra was very expertly directed by Dominique Trottein. He extracted the essence of the drama and beauty from the orchestral writing and, with well chosen tempos, drove it along when necessary, or held it back for the more poetic moments. One couldn’t expect the rich colours of a full orchestra playing Tchaikovsky from such a small ensemble but, once one had adjusted one’s aural expectations, it certainly did not disappoint.

Pictures are from the Fribourg production. © Opéra de Fribourg and are taken from resmusica’s review.


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