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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Kennet Opera - Eugene Onegin

10th to 12th November 2005.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Review of Eugene Onegin

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Beautifully-staged Onegin

Kennet Opera: Eugene Onegin, at The Corn Exchange, from Thursday, November 10 to Saturday, November 12

Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin, based on Pushkin's poem and sung in English, boasts one of the composer's most glorious scores. Premiered in Moscow in 1879, with its first public performance at the Bolshoi two years later, the prelude sets the opera in context, suggesting the innocence and decency of country lives (an earlier agrarian age in Russia, seen as a golden time in the period in which the opera was written), combined with an uneasiness that presages the tragedy to come.

As Tatyana, Lisa Benn gave a performance of depth, her trained voice well-rounded and expressive, though slightly less secure in the lower register. Initially dazzled by Onegin and passionate in the pivotal letter writing scene, she showed her strength of character in the final scene.

Phillip Borge as Onegin suggested the right mix of ennui and caddishness, though his stage persona is a little stiff. It was not until the final scene, the opera's emotional climax, when he realises what he lost when he rebuffed Tatyana long ago, that he showed the fire in his soul: "happiness was once so near us". But Tatyana is now made of sterner stuff. The stronger of the two, she will not leave Gremin.

Gordon Fry brought to Lenski a warmth and decency. His lyrical farewell aria, sung before the duel with his friend Onegin, was a highlight: well handled and nicely modulated. Sam Spaak's jolly, confident Olga was a very different, more carefree person than her sister. Gay Buchanan as Madame Larina turned in a confident performance.

Andy Spaak (Prince Gremin) relished the great bass aria in which Gremin sings movingly of the happiness he has found with Tatyana: "my sun and my salvation". He was no mere cipher: this was a moment of genuine emotion.

There were memorable cameos from Vikki Champion as the servant Filipevna; Chris Rands as Monsieur Triquet; and new artistic director Don Crerar as Saretzki in the misty duel scene, his 20 years as a professional actor evident in every word and gesture.

The opera was beautifully-staged, with simple, intelligently conceived sets. Low wooden fencing with a flower-decked arch suggested Larina's farm; drops of pristine, billowy white curtains gave atmosphere, depth and dimensionality to later scenes, and differently lit, may have worked better throughout, rather than adding folding screens.

The chorus has a major role in this opera, not only in the crucial dance scenes (the innocent enjoyment of the country dance tellingly contrasted with the hierarchies and hypocrisies of the St Petersburg ball), but also in supporting the narrative. Well directed, with lively movement, they were in fine voice.

Costumes were uniformly excellent, from the long headscarfs of the peasant women, to the black frock coats and top hats of the duel scene, and the showy empire-line dresses of St Petersburg.

Opera is a daunting art form for a local, almost entirely amateur company to mount, particularly since the singers are unsupported by an orchestra. Kennet Opera is lucky to have the services of pianists Oliver Williams, whose expressive playing was a pleasure throughout, and Susanna Proudfoot, both sympathetically conducted by musical director Paul Jeanes.