WHEN Tchaikovsky decided to adapt Pushkin’s beloved verse novel Eugene Onegin, it gave him not only an opera but a ballet, both of which continue to move, enthral and delight audiences the world over.
The opera has provided Dorset Opera Festival with its finest moment at Blandford, bringing tears and cheers from the packed Coade Hall on the opening night. Paul Carr’s production, played on Steve Howell’s spare and effective set, evokes the “Russianness” that the piece demands, and the company had gathered its most impressive list of soloists, bringing energy and charisma to these highly charged roles.
On Madame Larina’s country estate, sisters Tatyana and Olga sing of unrequited love and their mother and old nurse reminisce about their own youth. Diana Montague makes her welcome Dorset Opera debut as Larina, with Fiona Kimm as Filippyevna, Anna Patalong (pictured) as a mesmerising Tatyana and Tamara Gura as the playful Olga.
Neighbours Lensky and his friend Onegin arrive, Lensky proclaiming his love for Olga, while the arrogant and selfish Onegin entraps the affections of the naive Tatyana. Such is the passion of her new-awakened love that she spends a torrid night writing to her would-be lover – I have never heard more sustained (or more deserved) applause for a performance at Dorset Opera than for Anna Patalong’s Tatyana.
After his cruel rejection of her letter, Onegin flirts with Olga at Tatyana’s name day party, enraging Lensky to challenge his friend to a dual. Inevitably, it is Lensky’s body that is carried from the field.
Two years later, at a ball in St Petersburg hosted by Prince Gremin, his relative Onegin arrives direct from a long sea voyage. He quickly realises that the Prince’s new wife is Tatyana … and that he is in love with her. But although she still loves him, she is faithful to her husband, and Onegin finally suffers the consequences of his cruelty.
This high drama requires exceptional acting, and the Dorset Opera cast, backed by the excellent chorus (which has to dance as well as sing in this stunning production choreographed by Alicia Frost) captures the intensity and atmosphere of Pushkin’s tragic story.
Dorset Opera annually fills the Coade Hall with enthusiastic opera-goers delighted at the chance to hear exceptional singing in high-quality productions without the need to travel to London or Glyndebourne. This sensational Eugene Onegin proves just how good the company has become, with a first rate orchestra under the baton of Gavin Carr and soloists of the calibre of the marvellously musical bass Brindley Sherratt as Gremin, David Rendall making a welcome appearance after an accident that brought his international career to an abrupt end in 2005 delighting the audience as a comical Triquet, and Mark Stone in the title role.
Artistic director Roderick Kennedy was particularly pleased to engage the young tenor Luke Daniel as Lensky. Luke performed in the DO chorus, as a baritone, in the past, but in recent months moved to Bath and worked with Gavin Carr, who suggested he began singing as a tenor. That suggestion has launched a promising career and Blandford audiences are in at its start.
Eugene Onegin is sold out for its performances on 28th and Saturday matinee 30th July. There may be returns. Get one if you possibly can.
Footnote: There was an unfortunate moment when the lighting technician accidentally flipped the orchestra desk switch and the musicians were plunged into darkness. These things happen, and it was quickly righted. To the audience member who complained loudly at the end of “unprofessional behaviour”, I say SHAME!