Eugene Onegin, Coliseum, London
Thomas Larcher, Wigmore Hall, London

Deborah Warner's take on Tchaikovsky's gold-spun opera is at times incendiary, but why does she take so long to make us care?

A single kiss in a heartbeat of silence, a moment's respite from pain.

 As conductor Edward Gardner presses the pause button on Tchaikovsky's spun-gold score, Deborah Warner's English National Opera production of Eugene Onegin finally ignites. Lips locked, Tatiana and Onegin can dream of what might have been, what still might be. It's too late, of course, and the third heart to be broken in this triptych of heartbreaks is about to shatter.

After the visual provocations of Barrie Kosky's Castor and Pollux, it is fascinating to feel the shock of a minute's silence in an otherwise traditional Onegin. How better to suspend disbelief in a work so well-known? But why leave it so late to make us feel, to make us care? Mindful perhaps of the conservative New York audience, Warner is sparing in her interventions in this ENO/Metropolitan co-commission. Though visually opulent, the production is emotionally costive, less a living drama than the enactment of a ritual in an imagined Russia of balletic serfs and bearded priests.

At its sparest, Warner's work remains incendiary. In the sudden shaft of sunlight on Tatiana's book in Act I, the pietà at the close of Act II and the kiss of Act III, text, score and character are illuminated. Elsewhere, it's touristic, stagey, superficial. While Claudia Huckle's Olga is beautifully detailed, every wrinkle of her pretty nose expressive of the younger sister's temperament, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as the nurse, Adrian Thompson's Monsieur Triquet, Brindley Sherratt's Gremin and Diana Montague's Larina are under-directed. Experienced artists and fine singers all, they can cope. But it's a shame more time wasn't spent on them, and less on the army of pumpkin-polishing peasants.

In the pit, Gardner's pacing is superb: bold, engaged and imaginative. The orchestral sound is magnificent, the chorus on fine form. But though Toby Spence's Lensky makes an immediate impact – flirtatious and proud, with real beauty and richness of sound – Amanda Echalaz's Tatiana is diffident and hard-edged. Inexpressive in Act I, Audun Iversen's Onegin shows his vulnerability as he brushes the hair from his dead friend's brow, his tone grave and tender. Like the kiss, it's too little, too late.

Last weekend, the Wigmore Hall devoted a day to the chamber music of Thomas Larcher, with performances by cellist Thomas Demenga, Larcher himself, Quatuor Diotima, the Belcea Quartet and Mark Padmore, dedicatee of Larcher's latest song-cycle, A Padmore Cycle. As immersion projects go, this was a trip to a luxury spa. Larcher's music is well-made, all static beauty, scrabbling agitations, muted glissandi, elegant splinters and brief, sinus-clearing Romantic chords. Above all, it is well-read, with allusions to Schubert, Berg and Schoenberg.

A few improvisatory passages apart, nothing is left to chance. Larcher's aesthetic extends to the programme art (his own) and the uniform beauty of the smooth, grey pebbles he uses in the works for prepared piano. The artists he writes for share his attention to detail. From Diotima's poised readings of IXXU and Madhares, to soprano Christina Landshamer's star-bright intonation of My Illness is the Medicine I Need, and Padmore's keening, whispered aphorisms, these were faultless performances. And yet ...

As the day progressed, I slipped from enchantment to disgruntlement. Set against the sub-zero spritz of Kraken and the coppery drone of the Piano Quintet, Larcher's anthology of miniatures, Poems – 12 Pieces for Pianists and Other Children seemed too slight and self-reflexive for public performance, a minimalist Carnival of the Animals. The programme notes were a satirist's dream. Mumien, Larcher writes, conjures "elderberries in the stomach", while My Illness takes its text from Benetton's Colors magazine. What next? A World of Interiors cantata?

Only a sadist would wish the difficulties suffered by, say, Schubert on Larcher. But I can't help feeling a little grit would enrich his world view. Instead of reading interviews with psychiatric patients in a photo-essay, he could interview them himself. Instead of dreaming about the White Mountains of Crete, he could go there. Madhares is a glamorous idea of sun-scorched earth, not the real, goaty, scrubby thing, which, if it had a voice, would probably be a Cathy Berberian scream. Piece by piece, Larcher's perfect soundworld is mesmerising. Consumed in bulk, it is music for people who organise their bookshelves by the colour of the spines.

'Eugene Onegin' (0871 911 0200), to 3 Dec

Next Week:

Anna Picard sees if Errollyn Wallen's Yes is as affirming as it sounds

Classical Voice

Northern Ireland Opera springs into action with Oliver Mears' staging of Hansel and Gretel at the Grand Opera House, Belfast (from Thu), while Annilese Miskimmon's Opera Theatre Company opens The Magic Flute at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin (Fri). In London's Kings Place, Katia and Marielle Labèque explore 50 Years of Minimalism (24, 25 26 Nov)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?

An enlightening finale for Don Draper

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Serious player: Aussie Guy Sebastian rehearses for the big show in Vienna

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable