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?
Sunday 20 November 2011
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
Anna Picard sees if Errollyn Wallen's Yes is as affirming as it sounds
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)
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Boston Marathon runner's search for mystery man she kissed ends with letter from his wife
- 2 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
- 3 Frankie Boyle on Scottish independence: 'In the Interests of Unity, F**k Off'
- 4 How to gain confidence and maximise your sexual potential
- 5 Chinese theme park sets up 'death simulator' where volunteers can experience being cremated
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
How the Other Half Eat, Channel 4 - TV review: Swapping food trolleys shows how food and class are closely connected
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils