Perhaps the jewel in the Tchaikovsky crown has to be the musically-unsurpassable but dramatically unstageable Eugene Onegin, brought to the Edinburgh International Festival this year by Komische Oper Berlin. Known fondly as ‘the opera where nothing happens’, the 1879 opera – based on the long and epic Pushkin verse novel – is a big unwieldy mass that involves unrequited love, dramatic duels, runaways, and a protagonist who feels spurned when the lover he rejected moves on.
Taking on this mammoth white elephant with verve and aplomb, director Barrie Kosky has produced one of the most stunning productions ever put on a stage; his tale of passion and unfulfilled sexual rapaciousness is like a Chekov bucolic drama crossed with hardcore pornography. Raw, sometimes bawdy, passionate and hungry, Kosky’s version has the audience spellbound throughout the entire two-hour first act. On top of this, ‘the long aria’, as it’s known, is performed starkly by Tatyana (portrayed by Asmik Grigorian), lit by a single spotlight, which despite its simple set up brings the house down when it concludes.
Grigorian is outstanding as the lovelorn Tatyana: the sexual hunger she conveys during her arias is without comparison or equal. Though Günter Papendell looks to be a fairly diminutive choice for the philandering Onegin, he owns the role as soon as he sings his first line.
Ainars Rubikis conducts with finesse, and the whole ensemble appears faultless to us mortals. Nonetheless, perhaps the unacknowledged star of the whole production is Rebecca Ringst’s amazing rural set, complete with grass, trees and a revolving stage. The image of Tatyana in a stunning scarlet dress, rain pouring onto the stage, is an image which will stay with this reviewer for many years to come.