As Garsington Opera embarks on its 2021 season, there are two reasons for cracking open the champagne. Firstly, it is ten years since the company moved from its original Garsington Manor home to the splendid Wormsley Estate with its state-of-the-art opera pavilion and glorious landscaped grounds.
And secondly, after the disruption of last year’s season, the company has bounced back with a typically ambitious and varied programme that is a real celebration of all that is wonderful about live opera.
At Eugene Onegin last weekend, the sun was shining and Wormsley was looking particularly lush as an eager audience gathered for a much-needed dose of operatic escapism. Michael Boyd’s acclaimed production, revived from 2016, provides exactly that, and it was such a treat to be able to sit once more in the opera pavilion enjoying the sumptuous sounds and glorious spectacle that Garsington does so well.
This production is positively bursting with energy, and Liz Ranken’s fabulous choreography – from the peasants’ jaunty harvest celebration to the ravishing waltz, mazurka and polonaise in the ballroom scene – is outstandingly done, every dance a tour de force.
The ensemble singing consistently impresses too, and the opening peasants’ chorus, with the singers first being heard and seen in the garden before gradually filling up the stage, is particularly effective.
Singing the title role is Jonathan McGovern, whose mellifluous baritone is well suited to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score, and his journey from caddish, impulsive youth to a man wracked with remorse and despair is convincingly done. His Tatyana is the young Moldovan soprano Natalia Tanasii, making an impressive role and UK debut with a performance that is rich in vocal and dramatic style and sensitivity.
There is star quality, too, from tenor Sam Furness as the poet Lensky and mezzo Fleur Barron as his beloved Olga. Furness’s torment at Olga’s flirting with Onegin and his anguish as he prepares to face his old friend in a duel are heartstring-tugging moments, while Barron is a delightfully vivacious contrast to her quieter sister, Tatyana, until tragedy strikes.
Among the smaller parts, Colin Judson shines as Monsieur Triquet, while Matthew Rose is vocally powerful, if a little stiff, as Prince Gremin.
The Philharmonia Orchestra plays with tremendous vitality under the baton of artistic director Douglas Boyd, who conducts with his customary flair and commitment.
This is a compelling and magnificent production, the perfect tonic for these uncertain times.
Eugene Onegin continues on various dates up to 23rd July. Sung in Russian with English surtitles.
Also this season: Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (until 3rd July), Handel’s Amadigi (19th June – 24th July), Rossini’s Le Comte Ory (2nd-25th July), Barber’s The Selfish Giant (29th July) and Gough’s Weather the Storm (30th July). Visit www.garsingtonopera.org for full details.