Monday, 11 January 2016

A howler from Holten (ROH/Onegin)

Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin (Semyon Bychkov cond. Orchestra Royal Opera House)
Thursday night’s Eugene Onegin, the final of the run at the Royal Opera House was extremely disappointing. It possibly fell harder at the end of this revival because everyone really wanted to step into the velvet and gilt world of War and Peace. So the question on everyone’s lips, what was Holten thinking? This wasn’t daring or innovative (such as the Munich production with Eugene and Lensky romantically involved). It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t pretty (like the wonderful Grange Park production in the summer). It was a real howler, with fundamental flaws on every level. Tedious is not quite the right word. Half-arsed, frankly, might be closer. 
The set design was simple, shabby affair: four doorways with single lights above each; through these windows lighting hinted at chandeliers (these didn’t marry up when the door opened – very amateur). Perhaps this is what people who have never actually seen a Russian building think one might look like. Behind this different images were shown: a wheat field at the start, after the letter scene an ugly, out-of-focus red-illuminated.
The horrible red trees
Nicole Car as Tatyana and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin earlier in run
© Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
The single beautiful moment was when a curtain fluttered in the breeze from each of the doors, but alas this lasted for around a minute.
Nicole Car as Tatyana in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin © Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
Movement was disappointing. The peasant dances in the first act were nonsense. Indeed generally, “dancing” seemed to consist of mainly a lot of uncoordinated milling around. Some leftover furies from Orfeo perhaps, in long grey dresses danced around immediately after the duel; how, pray tell, was this someone struggling even with the consolations of society? It ought to be a fashionable ball. 
From the original production: The Royal Opera in Eugene Onegin © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Holten seemed to lose any vision for the piece after this duel, leaving Lensky dead and what looked like the remains of a Christmas tree on the front of the stage. Nobody seemed to know what they were doing. 
Why haven't you put out the Christmas tree yet, dear?
Nicole Car as Tatyana and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin in Kasper Holten's Eugene Onegin earlier in run.
© Photograph by Bill Cooper, ROH 2015
I don’t think there is a more heart-breaking scene in opera than the letter scene. Given the over-sharing to which the current age is prone, it is both incomprehensible and commandingly contemporary: surely it is a matter of time before we see a production with a twitter post instead. OMG Tatyana hearts Eugene. The censure with which C19th society would have met this cannot be recovered. Even sending explicit selfies would meet with little criticism today. Yet as the younger Tatyana slouched over a chair and scribbled a billet doux, whilst the older Tatyana watched, it was an object lesson in how to completely disarm one of the most poignant scenes in opera. This was indeed hard-to-watch, but for all the wrong reasons. 
Bychhov did not get anything like the best from the ROH orchestra, with a very uneven performance. Tempi varied – some bits were rather slow, others hurried; the orchestra ran ahead of the singers at times. In the first scene especially, either the orchestra was too loud or voices were taking time to warm up. Only Fabiano was able to comfortably rise above this consistently. These orchestral problems were the conductor’s.
Vocally this was far from perfect. The only real banker was Fabiano who was on good form, but frankly not as good as in the summer.  Nicole Car as Tatyana had become quite good by the end. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Monsieur Triquet) was too brief, with perfect enunciation. There had been illness necessitating a certain amount of shuffling around. But this simply didn’t explain or justify things. It felt like a first night, and not a very memorable one – the sort after which directors would be giving rather extensive notes to all involved.
There is more picking and whingeing to be done here, but I feel it sapping energy. Praise for a few voices and a couple of curtains in the wind was a poor deal really. Thank goodness for Tchaikovsky’s utterly exquisite score. It had to carry the evening, which it did –there or thereabouts, anyway.
Overall: a concert performance would have been preferable.
Prediction: when Holten goes, we won't see this again.

Credits
Director - Kasper Holten
Set designer - Mia Stensgaard
Costume designer - Katrina Lindsay
Lighting designer - Wolfgang Göbbel
Video designers - 59 Productions
Choreography - Signe Fabricius
Conductor  - Semyon Bychkov
Eugene Onegin - Artur Rucinski
Tatyana - Nicole Car
Lensky -  Michael Fabiano
Olga - Oksana Volkova
Prince Gremin - James Platt
Madame Larina - Diana Montague
Filipyevna - Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Monsieur Triquet - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Captain - David Shipley
Zaretsky - John Bernays
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert Master - Peter Manning
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

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