Opera Star Quality

By Tanner, Michael | The Spectator, June 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

Opera Star Quality


Tanner, Michael, The Spectator


The Barber of Seville; Eugene Onegin English Touring Opera Caligula English National Opera, in rep until 14 June English Touring Opera ended its spring tour in Cambridge this year with three performances of The Barber of Seville and two of Eugene Onegin, both in English translation, the former done without surtitles, the latter with. Neither of them really needed them, since the Arts Theatre is small and most of the singers enunciated with a clarity one hopes they retain in the careers one hopes some of them go on to have.

Barber was moderately successful, Onegin almost wholly so. Comedy is much harder to pull off than tragedy, as everyone knows, but singers don't necessarily remember and act on that when they come to perform, and too much of this production, directed by Thomas Guthrie, consisted of people doing funny walks, sticking their stomachs out and other trappings of absurdity.

Rossini may not be especially subtle, in this opera anyway, but its humour arises from character as expressed in its endlessly enchanting music, not in fools bumping round the stage. That didn't only affect the oldsters; the Figaro of Cozmin Sime was perhaps guiltiest of all, and unsure in coloratura into the bargain. Surely, however, there is a star in the making in Kitty Whately, whose Rosina was my ideal in the role. She is an excellent actress, her mischievousness seeming to be an intrinsic part of her, she's very attractive, and gave a personal, fresh account of 'Una voce poco fa', and wasn't deterred by her colleagues' overacting. The orchestra, under Paul McGrath, was underpowered , and the sets, by Rhys Jarman, featured an inappropriately El G r e co - e squ e series of skyscapes.

But Eugene Onegin offered a cast of admirable actors and singers, without a weak link.

For once - the only time in my experience, and it would probably have been a big shock for Tchaikovsky - the most interesting, concerning character was Onegin himself. Despite the librettist's and composer's attempts to blacken him, or worse to make him just boring, he is, for all his Byronic posturing, courteous to Tatyana, and absolutely right to reject her impetuous advances. Just think of the poem Pushkin would have had to write if they had got married, a poem Tchaikovsky wouldn't have dreamed of making into an opera.

At the fatal ball it is Lensky, not Onegin, who makes a fool of himself and insists on duelling.

The trouble is that when it gets to the final scenes, when Onegin returns from his Wanderjahre and sees the mature Tatyana, Tchaikovsky can't find the music of passion for him, as he had done so wonderfully for Tatyana, so ends up quoting passages from her letter aria. …

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