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Yevgeny Onegin, Tchaikovsky, P. I.
D: Kasper Holten
C: Semyon Bychkov
In the memory palace - Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden

Kasper Holten has evidently made changes to the production since its first run, but the basic premise remains the same. Holten seems fascinated by the idea of memory, and the two parts of the opera (the first five scenes up to and including the duel, and the final two scenes which take place some time later) are stitched together by having the older Tatyana and Onegin appear during the opera's prelude. Holten then tries to play the whole opera as a memory, using two dancers (Emily Ranford and Tom Shale-Coates) as the young Tatyana and young Onegin.During the dance at Madame Larina's it became clear that the production was moving between the real and some sort of memory space. There were moments when the lighting made the fixed set (a series of openings which could function as doors, shuttered windows or curtained of areas) look shabby and down at heel and the playing area acquired the detritus of memory, the sheaf from the peasants dance in the first scene, Tatyana's books, and this continued so we had a broken chair from the fight at Madame Larina's, the blasted tree from the duel scene and ultimately the prone body of Lensky as Michael Fabiano lay motionless throughout the two final scenes.The young Australian singer Nicole Car came close to my idea Tatyana. She sang with bright flexibility, with an underlying strength and firmness. She seemed to flit effortlessly between the young and older Tatyanas and was that rare species of singer who is able to incarnate both of them. In the first scenes, as young Tatyana, she really did look and sound young, yet in the letter scene produced a superb sense of maturity and depth to her performance. Much of the letter scene was sung directly to the audience and was searingly intense whilst remaining musical. Car has the potential to be a finely poised older Tatyana but in this production she cracks in the last scene and goes to pieces as much as Onegin.Dmitri Hvorostovsky, whom I understand to be still under treatment for his brain tumour. showed no sign of the illness and sang with his familiar dark, firm tones. For the opening scenes he was quite restrained, and not perhaps as darkly sexy as some, but brought in very much the fact that Onegin is a dandy. You sense that Hvorostovsky knows his Pushkin. This combination of hauteur and dandyism made his put-down of Tatyana all the more devastating. The climax in the final scenes, as Onegin goes to pieces, was very well done, but lacked the shock element as we had already seen the older Onegin throughout the opera. The duet with Michael Fabiano's Lensky was profoundly moving, Holten's concept for once moving in tandem with the music and reinforcing the message.The smaller roles were all strongly cast. Jean-Paul Fouchecourt was almost luxury casting as Monsieur Triquet, whilst Elliot Goldie, David Shipley, James Platt and Luke Price provided strong support as a peasant singer, a captain, Zaretsky and Guillot. In the pit Semyon Bychkov gave use everything we wanted and more. This was a lyrically passionate account of the score which still flowed beautifully and where the passion never made the music feel overblown or driven. Rarely have a heard a performance of Eugene Onegin which sounded so right. I can understand some of the thinking behind Kasper Holten's production, but ultimately I found the closing scenes to be robbed of power by his almost over analytical approach. Thankfully the musical account of the score gave us the passion and lyrical beauty lacking in the production.

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04 January 2016www.planethugill.comPlanet hugill
Il trovatore, Verdi
D: David BöschJulia Burbach
C: Richard Farnes

The Royal Opera House’s Il Trovatore is a war opera. Black and grey colours dominate. You will see tanks, machine guns, campers, smoke, wooden crosses, fires burning and, yes, passions raging. This is David Bösch’s modern-dress interpretation of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera. A bit of torture and war crimes can be gleaned but the final tableau will be a huge, fiery heart that could be interpreted as the triumph of love through death.Leonora, the woman who loved him to death does a much better job in the hands of Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian. Dressed in dramatic white amid the gloomy colours of the others, she sang with emotional conviction and dramatic effect. Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili outdid everyone as the gypsy Azucena. “Stole the show” is the catchphrase that comes to mind but that would be unfair and untrue. She did not steal it – she earned it. She delivered an outstanding performance in an admittedly marvellous role and the audience just loved her. Rachvelishvili has a marvellous, smoky voice that can spew venom and passion as she single-mindedly pursues vengeance. One enjoys every minute of her presence on stage.Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk deserves praise for his performance in the relatively minor role of Ferrando. He is the fine officer who carries out orders and Tsymbalyuk sang with commendable sonority.Il Trovatore is a highly approachable opera despite its somewhat turgid plot. It has some great melodies and between love duets and martial music it makes for opera the way most people imagine it to be. Bösch gives us a far more nuanced production and puts his imprimatur on the opera. That is what directors must do. The Orchestra of the Royal House Opera and Royal Opera Chorus were conducted by Richard Farnes in an exceptional night at the opera.

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10 February 2017jameskarasreviews.blogspot.comJames karas