Jason Bridges as Lensky is too slow on the trigger in his duel with Nicholas Lester’s Onegin. Pictures: Betina Skovbro

Eugene Onegin

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


Tchaikovsky insisted that his opera, based on Pushkin’s novel, was merely a series of lyrical scenes, and that is what you get in director James Macdonald’s revival of his 2004 production.

Seven scenes, with curtain down and house lights up between them, in three acts with two intervals, which, in an opera where not a great deal happens, puts paid to any chance of generating any momentum.

Instead the story is presented almost in chapters. Tatyana and her sister Olga live an uneventful life in the country around the seasons.

Olga is engaged to Lensky, a neighbour, who visits with his friend Onegin – and Tanya immediately falls for the newcomer.

Chapter two sees Tanya pouring out her love in a letter to Onegin, turn the page again and Onegin replies in person turning her down.


Natalya Romaniw asTatyana, lost in thoughts about Onegin

Next up is a party for Tanya where Onegin flirts with Olga which doesn’t go down well with Lensky, so much so the old friends become new enemies with a morning duel where Lensky is the runner up and is shot dead.

A distraught Onegin goes off travelling and returns to find Tanya is married to a prince. He now loves her, but it is now her turn to reject him.

Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw (her grandfather was from the Ukraine) has a powerful, well rounded voice as the troubled Tatanya, a beautifully balanced performance with real contrast from unworldly, shy, country girl to confident, commanding princess.

While in another fine contrast Lancastrian mezzo-soprano Helen Jarmany is a sheer delight as the more outgoing younger sister Olga.

Poet and fiancée Lensky is a romantic at heart and tenor Jason Bridges manages to sing, and display, his happiness, his anger and his despair, a full range of emotions, with equal aplomb in a very assured performance. His anger at what he perceives to be his friend’s attempt to seduce his finacee is palpable.


Nicholas Lester as Onegin, Miklós Sebestyén as Prince Gremin and Natalya Romaniw as the now Princess Tatyana

Nicholas Lester’s Onegin, looking like a posh undertaker, has the appearance of a man you suspect only smiles by accident. His hobby appears to be angst, so Lester’s fine baritone only has to do miserable, a bit more miserable and really, really miserable as a finale.

Again though there is a contrast between the in control, smooth, if painfully dull, operator as the country gentleman and the long-haired, dishevelled, less confident, lovelorn traveller who returns to find the girl he turned down is not only now married, but agonisingly, he is madly in love with her.

There are also some splendid supporting roles, such as tenor Joe Roche’s Monsieur Triquet and a wonderfully sung song about love from Hungarian tenor Miklós Sebestyén as Prince Gremin.

Another treat was the fine Russian mezzo-soprano Liuba Sokolova as Filipyevna, the Nanny making her debut with WNO. A lovely, rich voice.

Tobias Hoheisel’s design is functional and simple, hardly complicated stuff requiring an army of technicians and stage hands to change scenes, so why the scene changes take so long is a mystery. What they do do though is disturb any flow.

The sets, angular and blocky, don’t really provide a marked contrast between the rustic charm of the opening scenes and the sumptuous, metropolitan sophistication of Russian upper classes at the end, which doesn’t help to explore that particular theme which is never really examined.

Which means it is down to the individual singers and they and the always excellent WNO chorus do not disappoint while Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous music is, as always, beautifully played by the WNO Orchestra conducted by Ainãrs Rubiķis.

Roger Clarke


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