Thursday, 7 February 2013

"Onegin"s and observations

I saw the ballet "Onegin" last week, and the opera “Eugene Onegin” last night.  What a joy the first was; and sadly, what a muddle the second...

It's one of my favourite ballets, and I've burbled about it before.  This was one of those performances when the principals are hugging one another by the end, with that air that suggests they know this was a good 'un.  They were simply out of their skins (and I was crying into my binoculars).  

Well, and it’s also one of my favourite operas; after all, this is such a classic story of unrequited love, loss and regret – things most of us have experienced at some point in our lives; and then, in the opera you get some of Tchaikovsky’s most fabulously rich and heartfelt music. But where Cranko’s ballet is a perfect distillation of a perfect story (and was perfectly performed by a perfect cast), this new production of the opera just couldn’t seem to find its balance.  It was as if the director just couldn't make his mind up: Straightforward realism, or wholehearted expressionism? - oh, f*ck it, I can't decide; I'll bodge the two together and see what I get...

The answer, of course, is that, rather as in carpentry, bodging the two together produces a mismatched piece of furniture that won't stand up straight and collapses when you put any weight on it.

I went, because my Favourite Baritone was singing Onegin and it’s a role I’ve wanted to hear him in for some time.  He was, as I had hoped, excellent.  More of this anon (to my delight he made it worth going to, all on his own.  Top bloke).  I had heard of the Tatyana, Krassimira Stoyanova (I think I’ve spelled that right), and she was okay, though not great; Amanda Echalaz could give her a run for her money, and is better-looking and a better actress, too (though I have a feeling she may be a bit on the tall side for Mr Keenlyside, who is after all only my height!).   I had also heard of the Lensky, Pavol Breslik, who was excellent, and rather ornamental in a baby-faced way.  

I had heard of the director, Kasper Holten, because he’s the new director of the Royal Opera as a whole.  On the evidence of this, that’s a bit of an oh-dear...

The production had some strengths; it looked good and the crowd scenes were well-shaped (there was no milling about on group exits, something which always gets my goat, and the formal dances in the penultimate scene looked good and were cleverly used to emphasise Onegin’s sense of disconnection from his surroundings).  On balance I felt the use of stage doubles for the young Tatyana and Onegin was a booboo, as it was terribly distracting and got in the way more often than not; but it did have a few benefits.   It emphasised their sense of grief and regret, and in particular Tatyana’s compassion for her idiotic younger self.  And, by setting the bulk of the story firmly as memories rather than “now”, it served to bring out the way that for each of the two principal characters, the memories are different.  For Tatyana, the crucial moments of that summer were her falling in love with, and being rejected by, Onegin, and for him the crucial moments were his argument and subsequent duel with Lensky, and the latter’s death.  

If you think about your own "lost love and regret" type stories, and imagine a situation where you could find out how the other party or parties involved viewed them, there's a pretty good chance the results would be similar; that something absolutely central to you would be tangential to them, and vice versa.  It was effective, and psychologically acute.

The tiny touch of having Onegin try to screw up the courage to kill himself after the duel and not having the nerve was brilliant, too.  It served beautifully to illuminate the very unusual way that Onegin himself had been directed as an essentially sympathetic character.  Think about it.  Have you ever seen a Eugene Onegin you actually felt for?  Usually he's either a cold bastard, or a bit of a cypher.  This one was credibly foolish, and a coward, but not such a crud as all that; and it was made quietly but effectively clear that his rejection of Tatyana was due not to dislike or even indifference, but to panic; a knee-jerk reaction to her having forced his hand by writing to him. 

I have to say, though, Mr Holten was very lucky in his Onegin.  I can't think of many baritones who could have pulled it off.  But Simon Keenlyside, with his nervous intensity and battered good looks, and huge, quiet stage presence, could and did.  I have no idea if his Russian was remotely idiomatic, but that husky catch in his voice, that I have always loved, served him well, too, and at one point he hit a high pianissimo that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  

I just wish he'd had a more coherant production around him.  It didn't seem fair.  The last production I saw, at ENO, was also a mixture of "That idea worked" and "That idea didn't", and had a cracking good Tatyana in Amanda Echalaz and a bland, blank Onegin whose name I can't even remember.  This one had a cracking good Onegin and a fair Tatyana, and was a similar curate's egg as a production.   Grr.

Now, a fusion of the two, that might have been interesting.  But that sort of thing doesn't happen. So I'm glad I saw the ballet again, and done so superbly, too.  The two final pas de deux - between Tatyana and her husband, gravely loving and trusting of one another, a distillation of everything one would hope married love could be for a lass with such a rocky start to her emotional life; and the frenzy of the farewell between her and Onegin, hurling themselves into one another's arms and tearing themselves apart repeatedly - were both absolutely mind-blowing.  Hurrahs, deservedly, at the curtain call, for Gary Avis's gentlemanly, strong Prince Gremin, Federico Bonelli's powerful and sexy Onegin, and above all for Laura Morera who, for me, simply is Tatyana.

Meanwhile and moving laterally and onto other things entirely, I have some observations on the 5:2 diet, which I have been following since the autumn.  It's the longest I've ever kept on a diet, and it's proving an interesting experience.

It’s surprisingly easy to keep to, and if I slip (or have a week’s holiday) I find it’s easy to get back into.  It doesn’t seem to have, for me at least, the guilt issues associated with most diets and most attempts to reform one’s eating habits.  And it seems to be working; albeit not quite as I had anticipated.

I feel great.  I feel healthier and more active, and more energetic.  I am walking more briskly, running up stairs, hurrying across the Gardens running errands. I'm coming home and getting stuck into some writing, or some typing up, or a bit of each, instead of slummocking in front of the tele.  I feel physically and mentally good.

At the end of each fast day my body feels light and clear, as though I’ve cleansed myself inside.  I don’t feel hungry, except for perhaps the last half hour before my plate of salad in the evening.  I don’t feel deprived, unless I watch a particularly popcorn-y movie in the evening.  I sleep well and I don’t wake up hungry, either.

My “skinny” jeans are now comfortable jeans, my “comfortable” jeans now need a belt; and the belt I use with them now needs to be done up on the third hole instead of the first one.  A blouse I couldn’t get buttoned over my bosom last summer is now wearable again; close-fitting tee shirts look okay on me instead of showing off my bra bulges; and I can wear all my rings a finger along from where I could wear them five months ago.

But - according to the scales I’ve only lost five pounds. 

I find this very odd indeed, but I’m not complaining.  Feeling healthier and changing shape mean a lot more to me than the number on the dial.  And yes, I did check the scales; they’re working fine.  It’s not them, it’s me. 

I’m still no sylph, nor am I likely ever to be one.  But it’s good to feel energetic and ready for spring, instead of wanting to crawl under a stone and hibernate. 


Anonymous said...

I saw Eugene Onegin last weekend. Having been forewarned about it, I was pleasantly surprised to find it nowhere near as bad as I'd thought it might be - at least the sets were not ugly and, despite the directorial quirks, there did seem to be a mind at work behind the scenes, even if I disagreed with a lot of Holten's decisions.

One thing that did puzzle me was his decision to bring Prince Gremin into the final Onegin-Tatyana confrontation, thus making him privy to his wife's unhappiness. Played this way, it becomes an unhappy ending for all three characters. On the way home from the OH, though, I sort of grasped what Holten was attempting to show, ie that Onegin has a genius for making people happy, not least of all himself.

Anonymous said...

When I said 'happy', I did, of course, mean UNhappy!