When Graham Vick's pristine staging of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin christened Glyndebourne's new theatre back in 1994, it was hard to imagine a realisation of this great piece that was truer to the elegance and fine detailing of the Pushkin original. It still is. Revived now by Ron Howell (Vick's one-time assistant) and Jacopo Spirei, the freshness and clear-sightedness of the vision continues to embody everything that is pure and classical and candid about Tchaikovsky's musical response to Pushkin. The wonder of this piece lies in its economy and restraint.
So many telling details work their magic once more: Tatiana's self-baptism in the "letter scene" as the girl becomes a woman for the first time; and her isolation in the aftermath of Onegin's patronising rejection that makes such theatrical capital of Tchaikovsky's musical revelations from the previous scene. The loneliness of Tatiana was never more poignantly conveyed. Vick imagines the party celebrating her name-day to be happening in some other part of the house until finally she is swallowed up in the throng of guests, and the terrible events of the scene are played out against the chaotic jollity of one of the busiest and most brilliant pieces of stage-blocking I have ever seen.
The conducting is, predictably, key to the success of this revival. Vladimir Jurowski's little hesitations as Tatiana's music shyly asserts itself in the prelude immediately speaks of a deep personal connection. Jurowski takes his time, and it is the reflectiveness of our heroine "travelling off in dreams" that colours his reading. When passions rise, Jurowski and the London Philharmonic are there to meet them head-on.
He has a radiant Tatiana in the Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska. Her strength is in the middle and lower voice, where most of the part lies, and she makes the dramatic journey from the first flush of love to serene resignation with real accomplishment. Ales Jenis, alas, is some way short of filling the role of Onegin. Beyond the essential aloofness there is insufficient charisma in either the voice or personality – especially when weighed against Massimo Giordano's ardent Lensky. Perhaps there is a little too much of an Italianate "sob" in the voice but anyone who can so powerfully encompass the heartbreak and regret of his difficult Act II aria – an elegy to lost innocence – has my admiration.
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