One remarkable performance, that of Gerald Finley in the title role, stood out in this first revival of the late Steven Pimlott’s 2006 staging of Eugene Onegin, directed by and handsomely if strenuously designed in bright rustic Russo-Napoleonic style by Antony McDonald.
Tchaikovsky’s music penetrates to the heart of Pushkin’s poem, forcing aside its artifice of cool irony. Finley, ever more wild and impassioned, heaped risk on vocal risk to deepen the character of the flawed hero. It helps, too, that this Canadian baritone, now in his prime, has legs born for knee-breeches, obligingly provided by the 1820s costumes.
Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava offered vocal insights as impetuous young Tatyana (alternating with Marina Poplavskaya) but remained too impassive. Her big moment is the Letter Scene, that huge monologue in which she pours her heart and inkwell out to the unyielding Onegin and lives to regret it. If there’s any message here, it’s don’t press “Send”.
Piotr Beczala’s Lensky had ringing top notes but wooden presence and Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Olga, though securely sung, sacrificed charm to a desperate dose of over-acting. Chorus and cameos gave strong support.
For his ROH debut, Jiri Belohlavek conducted with sensitivity and tenderness, his love of the music evident in every note, expressively played by the ROH orchestra. He must be a dream to sing for. The tentative moments should soon disappear to reveal the perfection of this magically woven masterpiece.