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Review: EUGENE ONEGIN, Opera Holland Park

Nothing comes as easy as it goes.

Review: EUGENE ONEGIN, Opera Holland Park

Review: EUGENE ONEGIN, Opera Holland Park On a summer night in West London, a blazing fire of a Russian opera did battle with the chill night air. The opera won (albeit on points).

Opera Holland Park's new season kicks off with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, a tale of obsessive love, broken friendship and heartbreaking regret. Tatyana and her sister Olga live on a remote farm where they are visited by Olga's childhood sweetheart Lensky and his best friend Eugene Onegin. Tatyana instantly falls for Eugene but he cruelly spurns her and, after flirting with Olga, is drawn into a fateful duel with Lensky.

Being based on a book by Alexander Pushkin, the bones of the plot weren't new when this opera debuted in 1881 but Tchaikovsky's music raises the emotion levels to giddy heights, especially in the second scene when Tatyana composes a letter to Eugene. Anush Hovhannisyan is superb as the lovelorn woman who goes through various stages of bottomless infatuation from declaring "I know you were sent to me by God" to "perhaps all this is meaningless, the imaginings of an inexperienced soul" before landing on "my fate is yours to command". This may all sound a touch melodramatic but Hovhannisyan delivers a virtuoso performance which tugs hard on the heartstrings.

Dale Johnson's rakish Eugene is a strident figure as he turns his back on Tatyana, before placing her firmly in the friendzone and enrages Lensky (a charming Thomas Atkins) by flirting outrageously with his belle. Johnson puts on a fine blend of arrogance and insouciance here; it is perfectly mirrored later as he desperately tries to win back Tatyana's love following her marriage to Prince Gremin (an imperious Matthew Stiff who brings the house down in his cameo role).

Julia Burbach's direction is spry in the first half with dancing peasants and a lively ball but is much more gripping after the interval when both Tatyana and Eugene realise the gravity of their missed opportunity. Conductor Lada Valešová returns to the OHP festival with an understated orchestral performance which often promises more than it delivers. The solid set and costume design by takis transcends its beige appearance to draw us into Tatyana's mid-nineteenth century milieu, especially after the interval when the more colourful outfits and intense performances break for cover.

The climactic ending - enjoyed by an audience seated in individual upcycled chairs - is delivered with panache and frosted breath. Opera Holland Park has some more delights in store so bring a coat, bring a friend and revel in some open-air theatre this summer at this small but exquisite festival.

Opera Holland Park continues until 13 August.

Photo Credit: Ali Wright

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