2013-02, ROH, Eugene Onegin
Composer: Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Librettist: Modest Tchaikovsky after Pushkin’s story
Venue and Dates: Royal Opera House, London
4,6,9,11,14,16 and 20 February 2013
Conductor: Robin Ticciati
Director: Kasper Holten
Set designer: Mia Stensgaard
Tatyana: Krassimira Stoyanova
Olga: Elena Maximova
Eugene Onegin: Simon Keenlyside
Lensky: Pavol Breslik
Prince Gremin: Peter Rose
Larina: Diana Montague
Filipjewna: Kathleen Wilkinson
Monsieur Triquet: Christophe Mortagne
Note: The last performance (20.2.) is part of the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season.
Screenshots from Rehearsal 7.1.2013 and production pics
” … Simon Keenlyside’s Onegin is no diffident Mr Darcy figure, cold and sneering, but an affable gent, quick to share a joke with Tatyana at the seriousness of Lensky’s poem in praise of Olga. His rejection of Tatyana’s letter is almost apologetic and he nearly seals it with a kiss, but withdraws just in time. Here is an Onegin who is closer in spirit to Olga than her older sister, which makes his flirting with her at Tatyana’s name-day party seem perfectly natural. Indeed, even as the duel approaches, Onegin isn’t really taking the whole thing too seriously. … . Lensky duels with dancer Onegin, which permits a particularly lovely touch where Keenlyside’s Onegin almost intimately whispers back Lensky’s lines in their duet in canon. In fine vocal form, Keenlyside sang a neat account of his aria rejecting Tatyana’s letter, smooth legato much in evidence, while his descent into the dishevelled, despairing Onegin was reflected in his passionate Act III arioso. Once or twice, he appeared constricted in his upper register, less free than usual. …”
” … Simon Keenlyside is also very good vocally, and of course technically he’s a master, though he also seems somehow not in his element – I didn’t feel that he was that engaged with his character, and it showed not just in the physical acting, but also in his vocal acting, which was rather unspecific and bland: not usually words you can apply to Keenlyside. …”
” … In a bore-baiting silent prologue, the mature Tatyana is seen scrunching up and throwing away the letter that once meant so much to her. Then at the key moments in their lives, fifty-somethings Simon Keenlyside and Krassimira Stoyanova become wistful spectators of the young Onegin and Tatyana’s dancer-doubles, echoing the melancholy undertow of the music. … But, realistically speaking, however vocally ideal Keenlyside and Stoyanova are, they just don’t cut it as love’s young dream. Especially and imminently in HD. Holten’s concept allows us to enjoy their singing without straining our credulity too far. Best of all there’s a detail and psychological truth in the acting, in particular the rounded and reflective Onegin of Simon Keenlyside.
The singing was excellent all round, and idiomatic. (I will return to this in more detail when I go back for second helpings next week). …”
” … Simon Keenlyside’s ability to convey an air of pent-up, buttoned-up, reserve, even awkwardness, making his baring of the soul in the final scenes especially telling. Vocally he and Stoyanova were impressive and, as I have already implied, Pavol Breslik found tender nuance and an authentically Slavic sound for Lensky. …”
” … Lensky’s death is rather better managed, with an older-and-wiser Onegin (Simon Keenlyside, rich in dramatic insights but a long way from his vocal best on this opening night) reaching out to embrace his old friend and tortured by the memory of the pointless duel they fought together. … The deployment of dance and mime as windows on the past is effected without much consistency. One moment Keenlyside himself plays the youth, the next his younger self (Thom Rackett) takes over; likewise with Stoyanova and Vigdis Hentze Olsen. …
” … But it is Holten’s Eugene Onegin, not Pushkin’s or Tchaikovsky’s. … Krassimira Stoyanova and Simon Keenlyside sang with style, grandeur, ardour and every desirable quality except the freshness of youth.”
” … When the curtain rises on Mia Stensgaard’s country-mansion set, Onegin (Simon Keenlyside) and Tatyana (Krassimira Stoyanova) warily circle each other, she holding a letter which she crumples in a fit of despair: Holten’s ‘Onegin’ will be a drama framed by memory. … If Keenlyside finally seems a bit underpowered, there are some nice cameos, notably Diana Montague’s Madame Larina and Christophe Mortagne’s Triquet, and in the quarrel scene Pavol Breslik’s Lensky emerges heartrendingly. But it’s debatable whether this interesting directorial take plays fair with the opera.”
” … It’s the double who writes Tatyana’s letter, watched by Krassimira Stoyanova’s Tatyana, and it’s a more youthful incarnation of Onegin who kills Lensky in the duel, while Simon Keenlyside‘s twitchy, conflicted character watches on, wringing his hands in anguish. The result is muddled and distracting; having effectively destroyed the letter scene, which Stoyanova sings well, Holten undermines the heartbreaking climax of the final scene, too, by bringing both doubles back on stage at precisely the moment when Tatyana remembers how happy the couple could have been. … For every perceptive idea, there are at least two bad ones. Despite some decent central performances (though Keenlyside’s voice was a little threadbare by the end), …. “
” … Not that the first act belongs entirely to Tatyana, as it so often does. Simon Keenlyside’s Onegin is very much present from the start thanks to Holten’s central conceit: then his young man is puppyish on arrival at the Larin country estate, not the usual aloof dandy, clearly attracted to Tatyana rather than her sister Olga. Is he role-playing, still unsure of himself, when he hands her back the letter? The production leaves it vague, but at least makes us feel for him. … “
“… With an outstanding cast comprising some of today’s leading exponents of their roles, an important directorial voice making his house debut and a promising young conductor in the pit, this Yevgeny Onegin promised much. Did it finally deliver? Well I’m afraid that I’m not sure that it did. … Simon Keenlyside has always been one of my favourite singers and he gave an excellent performance. It’s true, the voice didn’t quite have the freshness in the upper register that it used to but the middle is still glorious. What I also liked about his performance is how he used the language to project the line and while he is not a fluent Russian speaker (neither am I for that matter), it seemed that he was so completely at home in the language. His acting also showed the clear progression to the frustrated and bitter man of the finale. …”
” … At least the singing is world class. Krassimira Stoyanova (Tatyana) has a rich melting sound, beautiful through and through, and Simon Keenlyside (Onegin) invests every note with warmth and passion. Pavol Breslik (Lensky) and Elena Maximova (Olga) provide superb support. …”
” … There can be no such problem with Simon Keenlyside’s Onegin. From start to finish his anti-hero is socially and emotionally dysfunctional, which makes for a fascinating study – and Keenlyside, commanding the stage in voice, presence and gesture, makes the most of it. … “
” … Holten’s theme is memory. Seeing the drama through an older Tatyana and Onegin’s eyes, youthful counterparts – played by two dancers – weave their way through the action. A good idea on paper proves confusing on stage. … Simon Keenlyside is in remarkable voice, building superbly to his climactic third act. …”
Richard Morrison, The Times, 6.2.2013
” … Musically, too, the evening has many qualities: Stoyanova’s strong and wonderfully expressive vocal line, Keenlyside’s convincingly immature then impotently rueful Onegin…. Meanwhile Robin Ticciati conducts a detailed, often beautifully tender and mostly well paced interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s masterly score: one that will gain in fervour, I hope, as the run progresses. …”
” … Simon Keenlyside who sung Ongein, however, gives us his all on an almost pathological level; so immersed in character, muttering his thoughts and embroiled in the drama of this lost man on a course of utter self destruction, I thought he was going to self-combust. Keenlyside should be playing Richard III with the RSC on his days off just to give himself a break. …”
” … Simon Keenlyside sings with a characteristically beautiful sense of phrasing and form, but he is not a natural fit for the role of Onegin. This Onegin is young and nonchalant rather than repressed and brooding; and Keenlyside’s engagement with the emotional depths of the role is, surprisingly, at times superficial. …”
” … As Onegin, Simon Keenlyside has a rich, creamy voice that is equally effective in the lower and upper registers, and reveals great depth of tone. If his gestures initially appear too large and bold, it soon becomes clear that he knows how to generate presence and create a deeply troubled persona. …”
” … Simon Keenlyside’s Onegin is not suave but unkempt and sports a stained jacket. It’s a wonder they let him in. This knuckle-biting, stage-pacing characterisation suits Keenlyside’s restless stage persona; vocally too he brings frenzied ardour rather than icy detachment — and compelling it is too. …”
” … I was a little disconcerted by Simon Keenlyside’s Onegin during the first act; it seemed coarser than I recalled from a few years ago. But dramatic truth gained over ‘mere’ beauty, for this Onegin gained in insight as the work progressed, quite in tandem with the production. As ever, Keenlyside’s way with words, just like Stoyanova’s, was pretty much beyond reproach. …”
” … Keenlyside as Onegin sings with an unforced warmth and roundness, pronouncing his Russian very clearly (and, for all I know, correctly) … “
” … Simon Keenlyside seemed slightly ill, his high notes lacking their usual force of clarion tone that has become his hallmark, but he nevertheless tackled the difficult role with verve: his Onegin is a fully three-dimensional cad who you just can’t help but pity. …”
” … Another terrible example was the duel between Lensky and Yevgeny, with the dancer getting possession of the gun while Keenlyside looks on and mirrors his movements pointlessly. The apogee of this emptiness in the staging comes when the dancer actually pulls the trigger. It saps all the energy from this macho confrontation scene and renders it weak and almost incidental. You can imagine what must be going through Keenlyside’s head when he is being marginalised to such a degree during such a crucial scene. He did do his best but unfortunately I paid more attention to the branch that Breslik carried in for the duel, than the singers.
Overall the singing was from very good to excellent, Keenlyside admittedly took a while to warm up but he was absolutely wonderful in the last Act. …”
” … Simon Keenlyside makes for a persuasive Onegin, stalking the stage with dandified self-consciousness, only to see his control eroded, collapsing with potent release into his final confrontation with Tatyana. …”
Translation will follow as soon as possible
” … Simon Keenlyside posee, qué duda cabe, el físico más apropiado que quepa imaginar entre los barítonos de hoy en día para el rol de Eugene Onegin. Y no hablamos sólo de su mera figura, sino de su actitud teatral. Él es Onegin, ese dandy seductor de modos elocuentes y ademanes condescendientes que ve en Tatiana una suerte de tentación prohibida. Es la suya una encarnación natural, casi asombrosa. Y servida, es cierto, por una recreación vocal más esforzada de lo que cabía imaginar, aunque lograda en última instancia. Y es que Keenlyside mostró, como es habitual en él, una línea de canto ejemplar, siempre teatral, alternando con idéntico dominio entre los momentos líricos y los enfáticos, pero algo lastrada por una dicción no todo lo impecable que debiera en ruso y por una emisión algo enturbiada por momentos, con sonidos duros en ocasiones. Y sin embargo, es un actor vocal consumado. De ahí que fuera, en términos general, de menos a más. No desmereció en modo alguno su aria del primer acto, tampoco su dúo con Lensky, ni mucho menos su notable dúo final con Stoyanova. Pero en todos los casos hubo alguna esporádica irregularidad vocal, algo más lejos, pues, de otras funciones vocalmente más logradas que le hemos visto este último año. En todo caso, un Onegin de altura, teatralísimo y vocalmente más que cumplidor. …”
” … Neither of the two principals — the singing ones — is in the first flush of youth, but both Stoyanova and Simon Keenlyside still have magnificent voices, and both can act, though what they are required to do is perverse. All told I found it hard to judge the musical level, since I found the total concept so miserably refrigerating. …”
Russ McDonald, Opera Magazine, 4/2013
” … Simon Keenlyside was a persuasive Onegin, vocally speaking; his theatrical confidence and musicality created a welcome sense of security. In the most intense bars of the score he may have been slightly wanting in power, but mostly he was able to match his partner note for note. …”
M. Lehnert, Opernglas 3/2013
Visited performances: 4.+6.2.2013
Translation will follow as soon as possible
” … Titelstar Simon Keenlyside hatte es ohnehin etwas leichter, da er sich, ganz gleich ob als Marquis Posa, Hamlet, Pelléas, Macbeth oder Eugen Onegin stets auch als Darsteller besonders einbringt und keine ganze Aufführung benötigt, um sich freizuspielen. Der Eindruck, dass sein gelegentlicher “Schatten” noch überflüssiger war, entstand vor allem, als die berühmte Polonaise auf Fürst Gremins fest anstatt von den Gästen getanz zu werden, zur Ballettpantomine geriet, die Keenlyside vor geschlossenen Türen mit sieben Nymphen ringen läßt, in Idee und Anlage der im Dezember am gleichen Ort gezeigten Lösung des berühmten “nonnenballetts” in der Premiere von Giacomo Meyerbeers “Robert le Diable” nicht unähnlich.
Attribute wie “kernig”, “stimmschön”, “ausdrucksstark”, sich “selbst verzehrend” umschreiben die stimmliche Darbietung und die Flexibilität des Baritons nicht ausreichend. Ihm gelang, vom Publikum heftig akklamiert, wie immer eine mitreißende, vollgültige Interpretation , bei der es in beiden Auffühurngen fast den Anschein hatte, als befruchteten sich Spiel und Gesang: Je mehr er sich bewegen konnte, umso schöner der Gesang. …”
” … That the singers playing these roles were themselves physically mature — Simon Keenlyside (Onegin) is now fifty-three, Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova (Tatiana) fifty — may have played some part in his decision; neither could credibly suggest the ages of Pushkin’s characters at the beginning of his text, when Onegin is twenty-six and Tatiana presumably several years younger. In any case, the idea might have been more effective had it been less intensively pursued; as it was, the dancers created alternative centers of visual attention that distracted from the vocal protagonists ever more insistently as the evening wore on.
For all that, Keenlyside and Stoyanova gave performances of substantial accomplishment and detail. Keenlyside’s wide-ranging baritone registered as fully equipped to encompass the role’s vocal and expressive demands, even if a hint of strain was apparent later on; his virtuosity as a physical actor made his frequent upstaging by a second Onegin all the more regrettable. …”
” … This masterfully sculpted story is rich with scenic details of which I found particularly poignant the polonaise during which Simon Keenlyside (Onegin) was desperately trying to dance with ‘fictitious’ girls, but as soon as he would touch any one of them she would fall dead; he finally realizes that he’s doomed to be unhappy and alone for the rest of his life. In such a state of mind, seducing Tatyana again would mean life to him, and he indeed spills all his despair out to her, begging her to love him again, but the whole episode eventually turns to be emotionally fatal for all three of them (including Gremin). … Singingwise, Krassimira Stoyanova obviously rocked (like she did in the Herheim production at DNO in Amsterdam) — that woman is a living miracle. Everyone else was truly fantastic too: Pavol Breslik (impeccable, just like Andrey Dunaev!) & Simon Keenlyside (never better!) — excelled again like they did recently in Munich, …
Ekaterina Shapinskaya :“Eugene Onegin” from the point of view of the Other:
British Interpretation in Film and Opera Production
(the extracts in which Simon is mentioned translated Ekaterina for us)
“…Well-known English baritone Simon Keenlyside doing the role of Onegin has several perfomances of it in different European theatres to his credit. Though not speaking the language he used it so well that every line was projected and it seemed he was free in the language. Both the director and the performer say that only in the fusion of language and music the real beauty of Tchaikovsky’s and Poushkin’s text is brought out, and in spite of all the difficulties of singing on the unfamiliar language, only this gives the real impression to the spectator/listener.
…But the difficulties of Russian pronunciation is not the main thing for creating a convincing rendering of an art work which has become a part of world heritage and at the sametime has the status of masterpiece of Russian culture. Opera has been from the start a cultural form greatly influenced by intercultural exchange. Russian opera school has been formed as a result of combination of authentic and borrowed elements, and in case of shifting it into alien cultural context the complexity of its music-cum-verbal-cum-imagery structure is growing….
…Another difficulty in productions of such type is finding in a popular text staged by different Russian and foreign opera theatres, known to British audience because of the film about which we wrote earlier, an original solution in the space where there are plenty of ways to show the Other as attractive and interesting. The director of this version of “Onegin” – Casper Holten, for whom this was the debut in Covent Garden, was mostly interested in the story of the lost past, of love which stayed back in youth, in the lyricism of remebrance. Hence his unusual doubling of Onegin and Tatyana sung by Simon Keenlyside and Krassimira Stoyanova by a ballet pair which shows in dance the story of failed love of the heroes.The ideas of the director, who belongs to the generation of globalization and dissipation of otherness, coincide with those of Martha Fiennes, the director of the film “Onegin”about the great stories crossing the time borders … …
… No doubt, one of the most important points in staging a work belonging to different culture is the interpretation of the main characters, in this case of Onegin and Tatyana. In case of operatic Onegin understanding and embodiment of the hero is more complicated than that of “transparent” and lyrical character of Tatyana, having “Russian soul” but brought up on French novels and dreaming of love as any girl of her age. Onegin is a more complicated personality, embodying, as we pointed out earlier, the features of “existential other”. For the performer belonging to a different culture it is important to understand his essential otherness which is probably the core of his character. Simon Keenlyside speaks about the complexity of the character of young Onegin which combines cynicism, charm, humour and who, as he puts it, unfortunately, did not understand the main thing in life. The otherness of Onegin has been emphasized by the artist – his anti-hero is socially and emotionally estranged… and Keenlyside renders it quite well due to mastery of voice and gesture….
This interpretation of the character is close to screen interpretation by Raif Fiennes who speaks about the importance of Onegin’s story today…. The coincidence of interpretation of the main character in the film and in the opera is not a matter of chance, it shows the tendency of European cultural producers to look for general human problems in a literary or musical text, for the possibilities of their solution or escape from them, for new understanding of such aspects of human existence… as love, memory and all types of interpersonal relations….”