WNO controversial character casting
Tchaikovsky’s best-loved opera, Eugene Onegin, was staged at the Bristol Hippodrome by Welsh National Opera for one mid-week evening on November 15th.
With splendid popular music and a good story based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin it was hardly surprising that this production in the original Russian drew a packed audience.
The surtitles placed immediately above the stage were an obvious help.
Unlike the complications and confusions that feature in, for instance, the operas of Mozart, the action is fairly straight forward.
The main characters in this melodrama, however, are not.
They are all too human.
Tatyana is a young country girl convinced that the dashing Onegin is the man of her dreams.
When she declares her devotion to him via a love letter he rejects and humiliates her.
Onegin then flirts with Tatyana’s older engaged sister
Setting off a tragic chain of events.
As usual Welsh National Opera came up with all the elements of a fine, very professional show.
In this case the audience were gripped.
The plain but clever scenery (inevitable in a touring production) worked well and the chorus, in traditional costumes, were all that could be wished.
Special mention needs to be made of the WNO orchestra who were outstanding, setting the shifting moods to great effect.
The soloists too were excellent with the tenor, Jason Bridges (Lensky) and the bass Miklos Sebestyen (Prince Gremin) perhaps deserving special praise.
Joe Roche as the French poet (Monsieur Triquet) was also outstanding for his acting skills.
Onegin, the eponymous tragic figure, was perhaps the most controversially cast.
He was played as somewhat stiff and elderly, almost menacing.
This masked the degree of sympathy which this tragic figure when played as more dashing can evoke. The few boos he got at the curtain call were not deserved either by the character or indeed by Nicholas Lester’s fine singing.
PHOTO TOP: Betina Skovbro
Bristol Hippodrome nights at opera
PREVIEW: This autumn, Welsh National Opera return to Bristol Hippodrome with two Russian-themed operas which mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
Performing from Wednesday to Saturday, November 15-18, the company will bring its productions of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, based on the book by Dostoevsky to the city.
Alongside these are two performances of Johan Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, in WNO’s delightful production.
Opening the week is Eugene Onegin.
Evoking the elegance of early 19th century St Petersburg alongside simple countryside settings, Eugene Onegin follows the cynical protagonist as he rejects the romantic advances of the young country girl Tatyana, before later coming to regret his actions and feeling the sting of rejection himself.
Considered one of the greatest Russian operas, Tchaikovsky’s music reflects the high society of the time and the yearnings of the heart with evocative arias, romantic choruses and luscious waltzes.
This revival of James Macdonald’s original production will be directed by Caroline Chaney and conducted by Latvian Ainārs Rubikis who has recently been announced as the new music director of Komische Oper Berlin.
Rising star and Welsh singer Natalya Romaniw takes the role of Tatyana.
Already familiar to some Bristol audience members, Natalya stepped onto the Hippodrome stage earlier this year covering the lead role in Madam Butterfly to an enthusiastic response from audiences and critics.
Nicholas Lester returns to WNO following his performances in the Figaro trilogy in 2016 to take the role of Onegin.
Also joining the cast are Jason Bridges (Lensky), Claudia Huckle (Olga), Miklós Sebestyén (Prince Gremin) and Sara Fulgoni (Filipyevna).
From the House of the Dead will be a revival of WNO’s original 1982 production, this time in a new critical edition by musicologist John Tyrrell with performance suggestions by Charles Mackerras.
Unfinished at the time of Janáček’s death, this will be the first time that the opera will be performed in a version that is as close as possible to what Janáček intended.
Telling the story of the inmates of a Siberian prison, the opera reflects their feelings of pain, oppression and injustice as each recount why they ended up in jail.
Their gloom is eased as they painstakingly nurse an eagle back to health, which comes to symbolize both Russia and the notion of freedom.
The production will feature a stellar ensemble cast including Alan Oke (Skuratov), Robert Hayward (The Commandant), Mark Le Brocq (Filka Morozov) and Adrian Thompson (Shapkin).
Tomáš Hanus says: “WNO’s ‘Russian Revolution’ season reflects the soul of Russian people, culture and thinking, as well as the history.
"It is very important for us at this point in history to be touched by this subject, as it is sending a very specific but universal message.
"The extraordinary beauty and immense power of the music of great Masters like Tchaikovsky and Janáček puts us right at the heart of this Russian phenomenon and brings it alive in front of our eyes.
“I really cannot wait to be working on From the House of the Dead with our fantastic orchestra, chorus and all the soloists, and to share this with our audience.
"I am sure that together we will all experience an exceptional and very emotional season that will deeply enrich our lives.”
Talking about the Russian Revolution theme, WNO artistic director David Pountney said: “After the intellectual and artistic euphoria that led to an explosion of creativity immediately post the revolution, the brutal realities of Lenin’s and Stalin’s regimes meant that putting pen to paper became an increasingly dangerous act.
"The result is that though there was an enormous amount of musical activity in Soviet Russia, there are no significant operas about the revolution itself.
"Our approach has been to present operas that in very different ways illustrate the enduring character of Russians and Russian society.
“The most endearing is Russia the romantic, as illustrated by Eugene Onegin, an unbearably touching story in which Pushkin’s Mozartian sense of irony is overlaid by Tchaikovsky’s unrestrained passion.
"In stark contrast, Janáček’s setting of Dostoevsky’s autobiographical account of his experiences in a Siberian prison remind us that violence and the suppression of freedom have remained one of the essential levers of Russian government.”
During the autumn season, there will also be two performances – including one matinee - of WNO’s acclaimed production of Die Fledermaus, conducted by James Southall.
Die Fledermaus will transport audiences to early 1900s Vienna in a production that revels in the humour and frivolity of the story, and is full of opulence, fancy frocks and lavish detail.
Featuring a rich and romantic score by Johan Strauss, we join the characters at a masquerade ball as a plot around mistaken identity unfolds. Die Fledermaus will be sung in English with translation by David Pountney and dialogue by John Copley.
The cast for Die Fledermaus includes Judith Howarth in the role of Rosalinde and Mark Stone as her errant husband Eisenstein.
They will be joined by Ben McAteer (Falke), Rhian Lois (Adele), Alan Opie (Frank), Paul Charles Clarke (Alfred), and WNO Associate Artist Anna Harvey (Orlofsky).
Also joining the cast in the role of the jailer, Frosch, is Welsh actor Steve Speirs.
Better known to some as Alan in the Sky One series Stella, Steve has appeared in TV shows including Extras, Doctor Who and Miranda, and has also appeared in feature films including Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
WNO Autumn 2017
Wednesday, November 15 - Eugene Onegin
Thursday, November 16 - From the House of the Dead
Friday and Saturday, November 16-17 - Die Fledermaus
Tickets from £12 concessions available
For more details click HERE