Bolshoi at Covent Garden: Eugene Onegin

Well, it seems that Eugene Onegin is not a lucky opera for us.  Visits by Russian opera companies to Covent Garden don’t seem to come off altogether successfully, either…

We arrived at Covent Garden last night in good time, but both a bit weary after a week at work.  We had two Upper Slips tickets (on opposite sides so we could wave at each other across the void), and at quite an extreme angle to the stage (BB and DD 29 for those that know them).  We’ve had those sorts of Upper Slips before, and appreciate their limitations, but when it came to restricting the view, this production was something else.

We had those tickets because we booked late, having written off the Bolshoi visit because of the stupid pricing, but later relenting.  The stalls – normally around the £180 mark for Covent Garden – were down at £135, but the Lower Slips (our favoured spot) which are normally around £25-30, where inflated to a ridiculous £54.  And bear in mind that the Lower Slips are still restricted view seats – probably very restricted given this production.

Anyway, the main stage was set back from the proscenium by around 5-6m, with an expanse of black material separating it from the orchestra pit.  Further, there was a black ‘frame’ around the stage, which came down below the drapes that bear the royal crest, roughly level with the bottom of the surtitle board.  What could be seen of the set, from within this unnecessary letterbox effect, appeared to be a rather classical room, with a table at the far back around which everything happened (at any rate, I could see chair legs…).  I could see a door on the side of the set wall, and some floorboards.  Intermittently I saw some people’s feet.  Mariusz Kwieczen deigned to come to front centre to comment on Olga and Tatyana’s looks.  Of everything else: nada, zilch, nothing.  Oh, there was a brief glimpse of Tatyana as she stood at a music stand with her back to us.  And she went to shut the door.  And Mme Larina fussed back and forth a bit.  No letterwriting, no meeting Onegin, nothing of any significance visible.   I therefore consider that Covent Garden (on behalf of the Hochhausers, for it was their enterprise) sold me a listening seat in the guise of a restricted view seat.

It was played in a curiously lop-sided one-interval form, with Acts 1 and 2 together lasting around 2hrs, but when the curtain came down on Act 1, I decided enough was enough and left to go and sit on the terrace with a glass of wine, to read my Opera magazine peacefully and wait for ‘is nibs to come out at the interval.

Playing by the orchestra was excellent – rich and full.  Conducting was efficient, solid perhaps, but lacked a bit of oomph and bite.  From what I could hear of Tatiana Monogarova’s Tatiana, she was full-voiced, but sometimes behind in faster passages and occasionally sounded slightly off.  It’s difficult to judge the others on the basis of what I could see and hear, but I had the sense that people were actually singing and acting at each other, so typical Russian park-and-bark had been avoided.  I can’t pass comment on the production either, except that they got up Mme Larina to look strikingly like Edna Turnblad.  During the letter scene, judging by the noise, they had Tatiana overturn the table and chairs.  And then smash a window to let in the light.  I assume that was what was happening.

The question, however, remains as to why the production was not refreshed with the Covent Garden auditorium in mind.  It is absurd in a theatre the shape and size of the Royal Opera House to place all the action so far back on the stage and to go to such lengths to make the viewing angles even more restricted.  Not that these things matter to the Hochhausers, so long as the money rolls in.  I will not, for example, go to Covent Garden and pay more for a single-performance programme than the Royal Opera charges for the their own…

A word on the audience: the Bolshoi seemed to have attracted more than the usual number of bonkers individuals.  Someone clapped at one point (I can’t remember when) and, when no-one joined in with them, kept going for a good 15secs of lone clapping.  My partner had an altercation with a woman who insisted on video’ing the performance (though what she could see I don’t know), and when challenged by the usher, claimed to be using her camera’s zoom as a binocular.  What the f…?  She was spotted later sitting in a box, carrying on her dark arts.  One assumes this was not with the blessing of the theatre, otherwise there are some serious questions to be answered by the Royal Opera House as to who gets rewarded when patrons annoy other patrons.  Why she wasn’t immediately asked to leave, I do not know.

Anyway, I enjoyed my seat on the balcony reading my magazine and sipping a large Pinot Grigio.  At £9, it was (for once) better value than my £10 Upper Slips ticket.

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