Like a maiden aunt with a large-print edition of Pushkin and a bag of boiled sweets on her lap, Hawkes is content to bask in the romance of rejection, regret, and sublimated revenge. His production, designed by Peter Rice, offers a series of stiff tableaux after the style of a Gainsborough Studios costume drama. With less intelligent singers, this bloodless fashion plate would be a theatrical disaster. Instead, it is something of a triumph.
In the absence of a clear directorial imprimatur, the cast have shaped their characters to the subtleties of Tchaikovsky's score. Mark Stone's charismatic Onegin is an intriguing amalgam of his Don Giovanni (Calixto Bieito's ENO production) and Silvio (Christopher Alden's I pagliacci for Opera North). He does that damaged/sexy thing very well: conveying ennui, arrogance, disconnection and self-contempt with insouciant confidence. But only as Onegin has Stone's singing matched his stage presence. Whether patronising Tatyana or desperately attempting to turn back time in Act III, his mobile baritone is highly persuasive.
If Stone's glamour is obvious, the reverse is true of his Tatyana, Camilla Roberts. A beautifully expressive singer, with a rich tonal range that she uses to sensitive effect in the Letter Song, Roberts is done no favours by her costumes. Whoever decided that a Peter Pan collar and an oversized bow-tie would suit a statuesque soprano with delicate facial features should be marched forthwith to Trinny and Susannah and made to stand in the box of mirrors they use on menopausal matrons who have lost their mojo. Opera Holland Park were smart to catch this lovely singer when they did. I just hope she'll forgive them enough to return next season.
Undeterred by Saturday's deafening downpour, Peter Wedd gave a refined account of Lensky's Aria. As Olga, Victoria Simmonds sang sweetly despite the low tessitura. The supporting cast was, however, dominated by Sarah Pring's marvellous Madame Larina and Graeme Broadbent's noble Gremin. Water-logged woodwind and musty strings hampered the City of London Sinfonia's blend, though Stuart Stratford's photographic realisation of this painterly score underlined how perceptive a conductor he is. Having heard several Onegins where the music is developed from the vocal lines downwards, it was fascinating to hear one where the orchestral score determines the pace and colour of the drama.
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