By way of stark contrast from the harsh ‘realities’ of Manon Lescaut or the confused banalities of Maria Stuarda, Glyndebourne offered the restrained and sensitive beauties of its production of Eugene Onegin. It was a sight for sore eyes.
The production is 20 years old this year, debuting at Glyndebourne in 1994, and its muted colours, emphasis on character-driven drama and exuberant dance interludes wear well. For a restricted view seat holder (in the Upper Circle Slips) the emphasis on use of the sides and rear of the stage can be a little frustrating, but you pays your money and takes your chances to an extent. The graceful curtains that separate scenes and, in the final palace ballroom scene, create a subtly shifting and disjointed perspective, and effective. The simplicity of the rustic scenes are beautifully appropriate to their setting. The emphasis really is placed on the characters to push this relatively simple story forward, with the sets providing a straightforward context for the action.
With the focus on singers, attention of course turns first to the Tatyana of Ekaterina Scherbachenko. She was more effective as the restrained and calm princess of the final scene than the impetuous young girl of the early drama, but in a number of places she struggled to project vocally. In early scenes she was out-sung by the full-bodied vocal gloss of mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Sergeeva as Olga, although that suited the interplay between their characters, one reserved, the other impetuous, as Sergeeva excelled in portraying.
As Onegin, Andrei Bondarenko grew in stature as the opera went on, making a thoroughly convincing transition through polite new arrival, to his boredom-fuelled bad behaviour in the party scenes, the tragedy of the duel, and finally his broken spirit throughout his confrontation with the now Princess Tatyana. Edgaras Montvidas was Lensky, with a voice of interesting colours, sensitively deployed through his touching Kudà, kudà in act 2. Taras Shtonda plumbed, almost, the depths for Gremin’s pensive third act aria, and Irina Tchistjakova and Diana Montague set us on our way as Filipyevna and Madame Larina, the latter particularly fine.
In the pit, a storm of heart-on-sleeve emotion and propulsive dance rhythms were being whipped up by the energetic Omer Meir Wellber, to which the LPO responded with secure playing and crisp articulation. This being the last performance of the run, there was a touching gesture as Wellber brought onto stage a basket of flowers, which he handed out to the principals, the chorus (via the Chorus Master) and the orchestra, whose tribute he rained down upon them. They had played tremendously for him and, together with the elegant Graham Vick production, they set the foundation for an excellent evening of opera.