Opera Holland Park has been mentoring young singers and conductors for a decade now and its efforts to nurture burgeoning talent continue to bear fruit.
Young Artists performing Tchaikovsky’s Onegin impressed this week, the principal singers providing intriguing insights into the roles of Tatiana, Olga, Lensky and Onegin. Rory Musgrave’s Onegin in particular drew attention.
For his part,Tchaikovsky was wary of the character he had encountered in Pushkin’s extended poem of the same name, on which the opera is based, describing Onegin as ‘cold’ and ‘heartless. Onegin, is certainly discouraging to Tatiana when he returns her impassioned letter, containing her avowal of love for him, and certainly heartless, when he dances with Tatiana’s sister, Olga, too freely. Olga is engaged to Lensky, Onegin’s supposed best friend. The dances trigger a duel between the two men and Lensky perishes.
The tragedy is felt acutely by the audience for it is hard not to love Lensky. You would need to be a cold fish not to feel lifted by the beautiful arias Tchaikovsky created for him, which celebrate love and life. His melodies resonate in your head for days.
Jack Roberts was properly disarming singing the role, both in love and in torment when Onegin betrays him, when his tense, strangled tenor pierced the heart. Robert’s pairing with Anna Elizabeth Cooper, singing Olga, was inspired, and their tenor-contralto combination, a complete joy.
Musgrave’s Onegin meanwhile was unsettling, especially in the latter stages of the opera. In his black frock coat, Musgrave scuttled, insect-like, around the hem of Tatiana’s heavy silk dress, burying his head in its thick folds. It was painful to watch, and also memorable. How could Tatiana fall for such a creature you may ask?
Tchaikovsky’s disproval of Onegin’s behaviour spilled into his opera – he gave Onegin few arias. Onegin’s baritone lines pale next to Lensky’s showy vocal displays. I wanted more volume from Musgrave. It came in the finale when Tatiana leaves.
Lucy Anderson impressed with her Tatiana. Before our eyes she grew on stage, from unworldly girl to confident woman of St Petersburg society. Though she suffers, she does walk away from Onegin to join her princely consort. On the night, Anderson displayed all the talents of the dramatic soprano, thrilling us with her powerful, emotive voice. Anderson’s voice has developed immeasurably since 2019 when I saw her sing in the Wagner Society singing competition where she was finalist. She always had the vocal power and now she has prodigious poise and acting skills. She lived and breathed Tatiana. It is a role she is well suited to.
Of note were the magnificent cameo and secondary parts which Tchaikovsky wrote so well. The Prince’s aria was luxuriant, sung by experienced bass, Henry Grant Kerswell. Phillip Costovski was mesmerising as Triquet and Jane Monari’s Filippyevna nanny role was intelligently portrayed.
The chorus put in a superb performance and a special mention is in order for YA conductor Hannah von Wiehler. By keeping a tight rein on Tchaikovky’s lush score, she was able to properly shape the musical progression of the all-important letter scene.
This was a slick YA production of Onegin. If you haven’t already, get down to Opera Holland Park for the 23rdJune evening performance.
Young Artists Performances of Eugene Onegin can also be seen on 23 June 7.30pm, 15 and 21 June at 12pm (Schools Matinees)