Staging Tchaikovsky’s operatic behemoth, Eugene Onegin, is an act of faith only to be taken on by the blindly courageous or extremely foolhardy, and this titanic work of musical genius must, on the page, look completely unstageable and calls on every piece of slight of hand in a director’s bag of tricks to add any drama to a—sadly—elephantine musical masterpiece. (For example, in the hour-long Act One, Tatyana announces she loves Onegin in a twenty-minute sung monologue but he rejects her. Not much else happens…)
However, Oliver Mears’ hugely imaginative production takes the challenge head on and brings this unwieldy piece to the stage with imagination and aplomb. Presented in a deserted and derelict country dacha—reminiscent of the 1970s golden age sets of director/designer Philip Prowse at the Glasgow Citizens—we see Tatyana returning as an older woman to the decayed opulence of her youth, and her story is acted out by characters from her past like ghosts floating silently throughs a haunted house.
Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting design is a work of art and the production makes highly imaginative use of Victorian theatrical devices such as shadow theatre, magic lanterns and tableaux vivant—turning walls transparent to show scenes either in the distance or in the characters’ imaginations.
Of course, Tchaikovsky’s musical score is beyond amazing and expresses the characters’ feelings of suppressed erotism and desire masterfully, and Stuart Stratford conducts it with a restrained flair which betrays a deep understanding of the composer’s oeuvre, and is head and shoulders above the normal bangs and crashes one finds featured on cheap recordings from Swan Lake and the 1812 Overture. All the cast sing beautifully and it would be unfair to single out any one performer for praise, but special mention should go to dancer, Eve Mutso—beautifully choreographed by Ashley Page—for her exceptionally evocative solo performance.
All in all, a throughly magnificent performance—if slow to gain momentum—and certainly a production not to be missed.